If our Atlanta vet 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 is also seen in cats and occasionally other small, furry 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, and this means that they feed on their hosts, depleting them of the vital nutrients that they need to stay healthy. The more worms your pet has, the more they will take from your pet to sustain themselves. This 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 the initial symptoms of the disease are very subtle. Therefore, it is easy to misconstrue them for something else or miss them entirely. Often, by the time a pet owner seeks veterinary attention and a diagnosis is made, the lifecycle of the worm has been completed at least once and there are both adult worms present in your pet, as well as worms at every larval stage. This means significant damage may have been done to your pet’s body, and symptoms including coughing, lethargy, loss of appetite and weight loss are probably apparent.
Fortunately, a heartworm diagnosis doesn’t have to mean the worst. There are various treatments that can tackle a heartworm infection.
The principles of treating heartworm
When it comes to treating heartworm, there are three different factors that need to be addressed if the parasites are to be completely destroyed and the infection treated.
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 an organism present in heartworm that causes inflammation in the blood vessels of the lungs. Most veterinarians will also recommend treating the wolbachia with steroids and antibiotics to reduce any subsequent inflammation affecting your pet.
In order to treat heartworms effectively, each of the above areas must be considered and the most suitable treatment given by our Inman Park Animal Hospital veterinarian. This usually involves:
Ivermectin – this is a medication that can kill heartworm in the larval stage. Ivermectin kills the larvae more slowly than any alternative drugs. While it may seem better to choose a drug that kills them quickly, if too many larvae die at one it can cause your pet to go into shock. Therefore, Ivermectin is considered safer and is preferred by most vets treating heartworm.
Melarsomine (Immiticideâ) – 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 can be painful, and so pain medications may be given alongside the melarsomine. Your pet will also need to stay in overnight to be monitored to ensure that he does not have any adverse effects to the injection.
Antiobiotics and steroid – our vet may choose to prescribe antibiotics and steroids to help combat any inflammation in your animal’s heart and lungs.
Here at Inman Park Animal Hospital, we are passionate about ensuring that your animals get the care and treatment that they deserve. Our team of experienced veterinarians understand 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.