What is heartworm and how does my dog get heartworm?
Heartworm is a blood parasite that lives in the pulmonary vessels near the heart.
Mosquitos transmit heartworm. If a mosquito that carries heartworm bites your pet, they may infect your dog with heartworm larvae. This larvae takes a number of months to develop into adult heartworms.
What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Symptoms of heartworm disease can vary from a cough and exercise intolerance to absolutely no symptoms depending on the number of adult parasites. The heartworms live in the blood vessels, and can cause damage to the vessels and the heart even though we may not see clinical symptoms.
How do we diagnose heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is tested for with a blood test. A small sample of blood is needed to run a test in the clinic. Usually we will have results within 10-15 minutes. This test checks for an antigen produced by adult female heartworms.
If a blood test comes up positive, confirmation that the test is correct is usually done by examining the blood under a microscope. Below is a video of microfilariae moving under a microscope. These microfilariae are produced by adult heartworms.
Prevention is the best medicine!
Heartworm disease is becoming more common, even in Ontario. We recommend all our canine patients be on a heartworm prevention throughout transmission season (late spring, summer, and fall). There are a variety of heartworm prevention medications – either oral or topical.
These medications work retroactively meaning that your pet may be exposed to larvae transmitted from mosquitos during the month of June, but then the dose of prevention given July 1st will clear these larvae from your dog’s bloodstream so the larvae never have the chance to mature into adult heartworms.
Heartworm is a much safer than heartworm treatment. As always, prevention is the best medicine!
.Don’t forget to schedule your dog’s parasite screen with one of our friendly technicians! Ask us if you have any questions about your current prevention protocol!