Heartworm in Pets: Definition, Signs and Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery

As a dog or cat owner, you want to do everything to keep your furry friend healthy and safe. In addition to pet vaccinations, routine check-ups, and a healthy diet, you also need to be aware of the dangers of heartworm.

Heartworm is a parasitic infection that can be deadly to dogs, cats, and ferrets. Here’s what you need to know about heartworm in pets, including the signs and symptoms, treatment options, and recovery process.

What Is Heartworm?

Heartworm is a type of roundworm that is transmitted by mosquitoes. The larvae enter the animal’s bloodstream through a mosquito bite and then mature into adult worms over the course of several months. Once they mature, the worms move to the heart and lungs, where they can cause serious damage. If left untreated, a heartworm can be fatal and needs emergency veterinary care.

People can get heartworm from an infected animal, but since humans are not a natural host, the parasite does not survive in our bodies for long.

Signs and Symptoms of Heartworm Disease in Pets

The signs and symptoms of heartworm illness depend on the stage of the infection. There may be no signs or symptoms in the early stages at all. As the number of worms increases, infected animals may start to show signs as follows:

  • Respiratory distress, including coughing and difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss

In the later stages of the disease, heart failure can occur. Animals with heart failure may collapse, have an irregular heartbeat, and fluid may build up in their abdomen.

Diagnosis of Heartworm Disease in Pets

If you suspect that your pet has heartworm, the first step is to take them to the vet for an examination. The vet will likely ask about your pet’s history and symptoms and then perform a physical exam.

To confirm the diagnosis, your vet may also recommend one or more of the following tests:

  • Blood test: This test looks for heartworm antibodies produced by the animal’s immune system in response to the presence of heartworms.
  • X-ray: An x-ray can show if there is damage to the lungs or heart due to a heartworm infection.
  • Ultrasound: This imaging test can show worms in the heart or lungs.

Treatment of Heartworm Disease in Pets

If your pet is diagnosed with heartworm, treatment is essential to their health and well-being. The goal of treatment is to kill the adult worms and larvae while also managing any symptoms.

Treatment options include:

1. Heartworm Preventive Medication

This medication kills heartworm larvae before they have a chance to mature into adults. It is given monthly and is available by prescription from your vet.

2. Adulticide Therapy

This treatment kills adult heartworms and is typically given as injections for several weeks.

3. Corticosteroids

These drugs are used to help reduce inflammation caused by heartworms. They may be given orally or injected.

4. Antibiotics

These drugs are used to treat secondary bacterial infections that can occur due to heartworm disease.

5. Hospitalization

In some cases, animals with heartworm disease may need to be hospitalized for treatment. This is often only necessary in severe cases where the animal has difficulty breathing or is in heart failure.

Recovery from Heartworm Disease

The good news is that many animals with heartworm disease recover with treatment and live happy, healthy lives. The recovery process can take several weeks to months, and you must follow your vet’s instructions. Here are additional tips to help them through this process:

  • Provide plenty of rest: Animals with heartworm disease need plenty of rest to allow their body to heal. This means keeping them indoors and limiting their activity.
  • Offer a nutritious diet: A healthy diet will help your pet’s body recover from the infection. Ask your veterinarian about the best type of food for your pet.
  • Give medications as prescribed: Be sure to give your pet any medications that are prescribed by the vet, such as heartworm preventative medication, antibiotics, or corticosteroids.
  • Monitor for signs of improvement: As your pet starts to feel better, they may have more energy and be more active. Watch for these signs and let your vet know if you see any changes.

How to Prevent Heartworm in Pets

Prevention is always better than cure, especially true for heartworm disease. Several heartworm preventative medications are available that are highly effective at protecting pets from this disease.

These medications are typically given every month, and some require a prescription from your vet. If you’re not sure which product is best for your pet, talk to your vet about the options.

In addition to using a preventive medication, there are also a few other things you can do to help prevent heartworm in your pet:

  • Keep them up-to-date on vaccinations: Vaccinations help boost your pet’s immune system, making them less likely to contract diseases like heartworm.
  • Limit their exposure to mosquitoes: Mosquitoes are the main carriers of heartworm larvae, so it’s essential to limit your pet’s exposure to them. This means keeping them indoors during peak mosquito hours (dusk to dawn), using mosquito nets or screens on doors and windows, and using mosquito repellent when outdoors.
  • Talk to your vet about heartworm: The best way to prevent heartworm is to talk to your vet. They can help you choose the right preventive medication for your pet and answer any questions you have about the disease.

The Bottom Line

Heartworm is a serious disease that can also be deadly to pets. It is caused by parasites that are transmitted by mosquitoes, and it can affect dogs, cats, and other animals.

The key to protecting your pets from having this disease is to be aware of the symptoms, get them tested and vaccinated regularly, and use monthly preventive medication. If you think your pet may have heartworm, be sure to get professional vet services, such as this veterinary care in Ceres, for early diagnosis and treatment to make a full recovery.

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