Heartworm Treatment Options
If Dr. Murphree has given you the news that your beloved furbaby has heartworms, you could be panicking. Heartworms are an extremely serious and dangerous parasitic infection that primarily affect dogs but are also seen in cats and occasionally other mammals. Spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, heartworm larvae penetrate your pet’s body, making their way to his heart and lungs where they will mature into full-grown adults reaching up to 12 inches in length.
Heartworms are Parasites
Heartworms are parasites and they cause damage to the heart and lungs. The more worms your pet has, the more damage they will cause. This damage will cause your pet to weaken and over time, if treatment isn’t sought, he may lose his life to the infection.
One of the main difficulties with heartworms is that initially there are no symptoms of the disease. Therefore it is easy to miss them entirely. By the time a pet owner seeks veterinary attention and a diagnosis is made, the lifecycle of the worm has been completed so there are both adult worms present in your pet and damage is being done. Symptoms including coughing, lethargy, loss of appetite and weight loss may be apparent.
Fortunately, a heartworm diagnosis doesn’t have to mean the worst. There is treatment for heartworm infection and your dog may be a candidate for it.
What to do to treat heartworm
When it comes to treating heartworm, there are three different factors that need to be addressed to increase the chance of successfully removing heartworms, avoiding reinfection and minimizing complications.
Treating heartworm means killing off the adult worms. It is the adults that live in the blood vessels of your pet’s heart and lungs that cause damage to the health of your furbaby. By eradicating the adults, you will also prevent them from producing any more offspring.
However, in addition to this, any heartworms that are still in the larval stages must also be destroyed. If they aren’t, they will develop into adults and the cycle of heartworm disease will continue.
Wolbachia is a bacteria present in heartworms that help the heartworms survive and reproduce and can lead to more inflammation in the blood vessels of the lungs. Most veterinarians will recommend treating the wolbachia.
In order to treat heartworms effectively, each of the above areas must be considered and the most suitable treatment given by our veterinarian. This usually involves:
- Heartworm prevention – this is a monthly medication that kills microfilaria (heartworms in the larval stages).
- Melarsomine – this is currently the only approved medication for killing adult heartworms. It is administered via injection into the muscles in your pet’s lower back. Unfortunately, the injections must go quite deep and are painful, so pain medications will be given alongside the melarsomine. Your pet will also need to stay in overnight.
- Steroid – our vet will prescribe steroids to help combat any inflammation in your animal’s heart and lungs.
Here at Republic Veterinary Hospital, we are passionate about ensuring that your loved pets get the care and treatment that they deserve. Our experienced team understands the importance of prompt diagnosis and securing the right treatment that can enable your pet to make the best possible recovery from their illness. If you are concerned that your pet may have heartworm disease, or if you would just like more information, please call our office and a member of our team would be happy to help.