Heartworms are by far one of the most dangerous parasites that can affect your dog. Although it isn’t unheard of for heartworms to affect cats, dogs are their natural host. Fortunately, a combination of regular testing and preventative medications is usually effective at keeping your canine pal safe from this unpleasant and potentially deadly parasite problem.
Heartworm: What You Need To Know
Although all types of worms are unpleasant for your pet to experience, heartworms can have the most significant effect on your dog’s health, and, because your furbaby will be naturally pre-disposed to masking signs of illness, the infestation can significantly progress before it is detected.
Heartworms are transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. When it bites your dog, it transfers a little heartworm larva into his bloodstream where they migrate to the nutrient-rich blood vessels of the heart and lungs. Here is where the larvae mature into adults with reproductive capabilities. Each heartworm looks like a long piece of uncooked spaghetti and can grow up to a foot long. Dogs who have heartworms may have dozens or even several hundred heartworms living inside their heart and lungs. The larger the number of heartworms, the greater the negative effect on your pet’s health as they begin to block the normal flow of blood around the body, preventing it from reaching your pet’s vital organs. Organ damage, failure, and death are inevitable if prompt treatment isn’t sought.
Symptoms of a Heartworm Infestation
Although your dog will almost certainly try and hide them, eventually he will have no choice but to display symptoms of his illness which may include:
A mild, persistent cough
Fatigue after activity
Heartworm Testing Using Blood Parasite Testing
Some, but not all parasite infections can be detected using a simple blood test. However, you must first know which type of parasite you are looking for since blood tests look for a specific parasite infection rather than any of them. Blood parasite testing can be particularly effective when looking for heartworms. This is known as an antigen test since the laboratory technician examining the sample will look for specific heartworm proteins, called antigens, that are released by adult female heartworms into your dog’s bloodstream. These can be detected approximately five months after your pet has been bitten by an infected mosquito carrying heartworm larvae.
There is also another type of blood test that can be used to detect heartworms in your dog. This test detects microfilaria, which is an early stage of heartworm offspring that appear in your dog’s bloodstream around six months after he is bitten.
Scheduled Testing for Heartworm
Although most preventatives are extremely successful when administered on time and exactly as directed, it is still recommended that all dogs undergo annual heartworm testing – something which is usually carried out alongside his usual preventative care visit. This is because even just one missed or a late dose of preventive, or if your pet spits out or vomits his medication, there is a risk that he could contract heartworms. Annual testing will ensure that your furbaby is properly protected from this debilitating and often fatal condition.
We are delighted to be able to offer canine heartworm and blood parasite testing as part of our preventative care program here at the Animal Emergency Clinic of San Diego in Poway, CA. Please contact us to schedule an appointment for your canine companion 858-748-7387.