Don't Let This Deadly Disease Steal Your Dog's Health
Heartworm disease occurs when your dog is bitten by a mosquito infected with the larval form of dirofilaria immitis—a thread-like roundworm. These parasites can infest the heart, lungs and blood vessels of dogs and other mammals, causing severe lung disease, heart failure, and damage to other organs. The disease is more common in areas with heavy mosquito populations but has been found in all 50 U.S. states.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The first signs of a heartworm infestation may simply be poor appetite and lethargy. As the disease progresses, your dog may develop a persistent cough. If left untreated, the worms can cause congestive heart failure or sudden blockage of blood flow within the heart, which can be fatal if the blockage is not immediately repaired through surgery.
There's a simple blood test to check for the presence of microfilariae; however, it can be is prone to a false negative result. A more accurate test is the heartworm antigen test that looks for a protein the parasite releases, indicating a heartworm infection.
Your veterinarian will test for heartworm disease prior to putting your dog on a heartworm preventive—these can cause complications in a dog already infected. The preventives work by killing larval heartworm before it can reach adulthood. Oral medications should be given monthly year-round, and your dog should be tested for heartworm annually.
The most common reason for heartworm infection is a missed dose of the preventive. The treatment should be given on the same day each month—always on the 1st, for example—to help you remember. Regular testing, combined with these medications, will help keep your dog safe from this deadly disease.
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