Preventing Heartworm Disease in Pets

Memphis is a center for heartworm disease - a serious condition that results in severe lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage, and death in pets, mainly dogs, cats and ferrets. Here, our vets explain why prevention is the best treatment option. 


What is heartworm?

Heartworm disease is primarily caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis, which is spread through the bite of a mosquito. 

A pet (mainly dogs, cats and ferrets) is the definitive host, meaning that the worms mature into adults and then mate and produce offspring while living inside the animal. The worms are called heartworms because they live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of an infected animal.    

What are symptoms of heartworm disease?

Symptoms of heartworm disease typically don’t show up until the disease has progressed severely, and may include coughing, difficulty breathing, fatigue, weight loss and a swollen abdomen.

How does the vet check my pet for heartworms?

Your vet will test for heartworms with blood tests that detect heartworm proteins, called antigens, which are released into the pet's bloodstream.

The earliest that the heartworm proteins can be detected is about 5 months after the animal is bitten by an infected mosquito.    

What if my pet is diagnosed with heartworms?

The treatment for heartworm disease can be potentially toxic to the dog’s body and can cause serious complications. Treatment is also expensive because it requires multiple visits to the veterinarian, bloodwork, x-rays, hospitalization, and a series of injections. The best treatment is prevention!

If your pet is diagnosed with heartworms, there are treatment options available and your vet can help you choose the right one.

Melarsomine dihydrochloride is an arsenic-containing drug that is FDA-approved to kill adult heartworms. It's administered by an injection into the back muscles to treat heartworm disease in dogs.

There are also topical FDA-approved solutions that can help to get rid of parasites in the bloodstream when applied to the animal's skin. 

How can I prevent my pet from getting heartworm disease?

The best way to prevent heartworm disease is to keep your pet on a prevention medication.

If you have a dog, it is recommended that they be tested for heartworms annually, even if they are already on preventive heartworm medication.

Heartworm prevention is safe and easy, and much more affordable than treating the progressed diseased. Some heartworm preventive medications can also help protect against other parasites like roundworms, hookworms and whipworms.

Heartworm Prevention is part of our annual Wellness Plans. Choose the Wellness Plan that's right for your pet.

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