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Nobody wants to think about their pet getting heartworms, especially considering how difficult the treatment process is. Regular testing, though, reduces the amount you have to worry drastically since prevention and early detection are key in the fight against these parasites. Before you schedule an examination though, you may want to educate yourself about the heartworm testing process.
A heartworm is a potentially life-threatening worm that grows to be up to one-foot long and is able to reproduce. A heartworm lives in the heart, blood vessels or lungs and takes valuable nutrients away from your pet. Heartworms affect dogs more than cats. It's transferred when a mosquito bites an infected pet and then bites another pet and infects him or her.
We recommend testing your dog each year at his or her annual visit. If you notice any signs of heartworms, it's also vital to bring your pet into the vet for an evaluation. In its early stage, you might not notice any issues. However, as it progresses, heartworms cause fatigue after exercise and a lingering cough. Breathing difficulties will worsen and so will your pet's cough. You can start a preventative medicine for your pet before seven months of age, but keep in mind, it takes six months after being infected with heartworms for your dog to test positive.
A blood test is used to detect heartworms, in particular, an antigen or microfilaria test. An antigen test evaluates your pet for adult heartworms. It tests your pet for an adult female worm. The antigen is detectable in the blood approximately 6.5 months to seven months after being infected. If your pet tests positive on this test, our vet may recommend a microfilaria test, which confirms the presence of mature adult worms.
Your pet may test negative on blood tests but still have an active heartworm infection. If our veterinarian in Etobicoke still thinks your pet has a heartworm infection, an x-ray or ultrasound may be used to detect changes in the heart or large blood vessels. It's possible an ultrasound will reveal the presence of an adult heartworm.
Your pet will require an antibiotic, preventative medication and steroids and then regular injections for up to 60 days to kill the adult heartworms. Because of how difficult it is to kill heartworms, we recommend placing your pet on a preventative medication for heartworms.
If you think your pet has heartworms or you would like to receive preventative treatments for him or her, contact Richview Animal Hospital, serving Etobicoke, ON and the surrounding area, by calling 416-245-8805.