Heartworm disease is a potentially fatal disease caused by parasitic worms that invade a dog's body. A mosquito that has bitten an infected animal transmits worm larvae to the new host, usually another dog. The larvae enter the dog's bloodstream and migrate to various parts of the body where they grow into large worms. The most common infection sites are the blood vessels of the dog's the heart and lungs. If you suspect your pet may be infected, you need to know how to test your dog for heartworms before they cause irreversible damage.
Diagnosing heartworm disease in dogs
Even if you do not suspect the disease, you need to know how to test your dog for heartworms before starting a prevention program. If you live in a region prone to populations of mosquitoes, have your dog tested. In most cases, a veterinarian initially takes a small blood sample and tests it for evidence of heartworm infestation.
One of the most commonly used blood tests is the heartworm antigen test. This test detects an antigen generated by an adult female heartworm. It is important to know that these tests are not foolproof. A false negative can occur when the infection is in its early stages, when only a few adult worms are present, or if only male worms are present within the dog.
Other tests available include the microfilarial concentration test, echocardiography, and chest X-rays. A chest X-ray helps determine an infection's severity and extent. If the veterinarian diagnoses heartworms, the dog may undergo further tests. Blood and urine samples help diagnose anemia as well as liver and kidney function.
Signs of heartworm disease in dogs
The signs of heartworm disease vary depending upon the dog's size and how seriously it is infected. The dog's immune system can also be a factor in how a dog reacts to a heartworm infestation. A dog can be reinfected each time a disease-carrying mosquito bites. That means larvae and worms can be growing in different stages in the dog's body. The typical signs of heartworm disease include lethargy, tiring easily during routine exercise, and coughing. As the worms grow and multiply, the dog will begin to lose weight, and breathing will become more rapid and difficult.
Preventing heartworm disease in dogs
Heartworm disease is highly preventable with routine medication. But even if a dog is on a prevention program, responsible owners still need to know the disease's signs and symptoms. Knowing how to test your dog for heartworms can help avoid the heartbreak of a fatal disease that might have been cured if caught in time.
Some heartworm medications can cause serious illness if given to a dog that is already infected. Most of these medications are given orally, once a month. Some vets will not refill a prescription until the dog is retested for heartworms since many owners are known to miss giving their pet the medicine on schedule.
Heartworm medication precautions
Some dog breeds are prone to allergies to ivermectin, one drug used to prevent heartworms. Collies, Old English sheepdogs, and Shetland sheepdogs are susceptible to ivermectin sensitivity. If you own one of these breeds, you need to know how to test your dog for heartworms and have the testing done regularly. If your pet is on heartworm medication, it is important to administer the medicine on schedule. Missing a dose by just a few days can have serious consequences. Should you miss a monthly dose, contact your veterinarian before giving your dog more medication.