What You Need to Know about Heartworm Disease in Pets

January 25, 2024by Nicole Tengco0

Heartworm disease is a serious condition that can affect our beloved pets. So, it’s crucial to learn what this illness is like and what we can do to protect our furry pals. Luckily, you’re in the right place. Here, PetPal will discuss everything you need to know about heartworm disease in pets.

heartworm disease in pets
Photo by Daniele Franchi

What is Heartworm Disease? 

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis. These worms are long, thin, and look like spaghetti. They live inside the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of infected pets, usually dogs, but cats can get it too. The disease is called “heartworm” because the worms are typically found in the heart, lungs, and other nearby vessels of the affected pet. 

How Do Pets Get Heartworm Disease?

Pets get heartworm disease from mosquitoes, which are the intermediate hosts of these parasites. This means heartworms live inside these insects for a brief period until they reach their definitive hosts, which are our pets.

When a mosquito bites an infected pet, it picks up baby worms, which are called microfilariae. When that same mosquito bites another pet, it can pass these baby worms into the pet’s bloodstream. From there, they grow into adult heartworms. Then, they reproduce and start the whole cycle again.

What Are The Signs of Heartworm Disease?

So, how do we know if our pet might have heartworms? There are several signs to look out for. The first sign could be a cough. If your pet has a constant, dry cough, it might have heartworms. This happens because the worms may live in the lungs, and it can be hard for your pet to breathe.

Your pet might also be tired a lot. Even after a short walk or play, they might act like they ran a marathon! They might not want to move around much because they feel so tired and weak.

Another sign is weight loss or loss of appetite. If your pet doesn’t want to eat their favorite food or is losing weight, it might be because of heartworms. 

Also, watch out for a swollen belly. This is because of fluid in the belly due to heartworms.

If you notice any of these signs, take your pet to the vet right away. The vet can do a test to see if your pet has heartworms. The earlier you catch it, the better chance your pet has of getting better.

How Do Vets Detect Heartworm Disease?

Vets can detect heartworm disease through a series of tests. They usually do a blood test to look for proteins (antigens) that adult female heartworms release into the pet’s bloodstream. If the test comes back positive, it means your pet has heartworms.

If the antigen test is positive, your vet may follow up with a microfilariae test, which checks for the presence of baby heartworms in your pet’s blood. Your vet may also recommend additional tests, like X-rays, ultrasound, or blood work, to assess the severity of the disease.

How Can You Treat Heartworm Disease?

Treating heartworm disease can be tricky. It typically involves giving your pet medicine to kill the adult worms. However, this medicine can be risky for your pet, especially if the disease is in its late stages. The medication can take a toll on your pet’s body, and sometimes, the dead worms can block your pet’s blood vessels. That’s why it’s so important to catch the disease early.

How Can You Prevent Heartworm Disease?

Preventing heartworm disease is much easier and safer than treating it. Your vet can give your pet medicine every month to kill any baby worms that might be in their bloodstream. This medicine comes in pills, chewables, or skin treatments. 

Remember, protecting your pet from heartworm disease is a year-round job. Even when mosquitoes aren’t as active, it’s important to keep giving your pet their heartworm prevention medicine.

The Takeaway

Heartworm disease is a serious, but preventable condition that can affect our pets. By understanding how it spreads, recognizing the signs, and taking preventive measures, we can keep our furry friends safe and healthy. 

If you’re looking to improve your pet’s health, it’s best to schedule a home vet visit with PetPal for a thorough check-up. Our friendly professionals can help your pet avoid many serious but preventable illnesses like heartworm. You can also buy medications and pet supplements from our online pet store. Download the PetPal app from the Google Play Store or the App Store today!

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