What Is Canine Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition that affects dogs, cats, and up to 30 other species of animals. It is caused by parasitic worms (heartworms) living in the major blood vessels of the lungs and, occasionally, in the heart. These worms are transmitted (as microscopic larvae) through the bite of an infected mosquito. The scientific name for the heartworm parasite is Dirofilaria immitis.
Heartworm disease can cause a variety of medical problems affecting the lungs, heart, liver, and/or kidneys. Any of these problems, alone or in combination, can lead to death. Although safe and effective treatment is available, it can be a costly and complicated process depending on how long the dog has been infected and how severe the infection is. The 12 month, all year round protection is the safest way to protect your pet!
Testing for Heartworm
Heartworm testing is performed to determine if a pet is infected with heartworms (Dirofilaria immitis).
We use a popular test called a “SNAP” test, which can be run in just a few minutes at our office. Our SNAP test is a 4dx which also test for lyme, and 2 other tick diseases.
If a pet is positive additional testing may be performed to gain more information about the extent of heartworm infection.
Heartworm testing is recommended for most dogs before beginning a heartworm preventive program. Annual testing is also recommended for dogs already on heartworm preventive medication.
What are the signs of heartworm disease in dogs?
Dogs may show no clinical signs in the early stages of disease. Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen. Dogs with large numbers of heartworms can develop a sudden blockages of blood flow within the heart leading to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse. This is called caval syndrome, and is marked by a sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark bloody or coffee-colored urine. Without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm blockage, few dogs survive.