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Heartworm is a serious condition that most often strikes dogs, but that can be present in cats as well. Fortunately, preventive treatments are quite effective as long as they are administered regularly. That’s why regular heartworm testing for your pet is so important, as it allows us to provide proper treatment and to catch the condition early even when there may not be any noticeable symptoms present.
A heartworm infection consists of one or more adult heartworms living inside your pet. It is far more common in dogs than in other types of domesticated animals, although it can impact cats and ferrets as well. Wild carriers of heartworm include wolves, foxes, and coyotes. The adult heartworms can grow to be about a foot long, and they live in the animal’s heart, lungs, and blood vessels. If left untreated, these worms will damage the structures they inhabit over time, eventually leading to serious illness and possibly death.
Symptoms of heartworm disease include a persistent cough, fatigue, weight loss, decreased appetite, and an unwillingness to exercise. In the later stages, blockages caused by the heartworms can lead to fluid retention in the abdomen and heart failure.
Heartworm is most commonly transferred from one animal to another by mosquitos. This happens because the adult heartworms in an infected animal will produce baby worms, or microfilarias, that are released into the bloodstream. When that animal is bitten by a mosquito, some of those microfilaria are transferred to the mosquito, who then deposits them when it bites another animal.
Although it is more common in some areas than others, heartworm can affect any animal at any time. That’s why it’s so important to have your pets tested regularly and to administer heartworm preventive treatments year round. This testing can be done as part of your pet’s annual checkup, and the preventive medication will be provided by your vet. It usually comes in 12 doses, with one given each month.
Even if your dog is taking preventive medication, annual heartworm testing is important for several reasons. One is that it’s quite easy to miss a dose, leaving your pet susceptible to infection. And since pets aren’t often fond of taking medication, they may spit it out or not swallow it all. Another concern is that, while it’s uncommon, there are a few strains of heartworms that are resistant to the preventive medication, and so who can still initiate an infection.
To learn more or to make an appointment for heartworm testing for your pet, call our offices in Etobicoke today at 416-245-8805.