A dog or cat can have diseases similar to humans such as cancer. There are some health problems that these animals have which are different and rarely if ever affect humans. One of these is heartworm. The heartworm is a parasite that is transmitted by mosquitoes and gets into the animal’s bloodstream. Once there, the heartworm can clog the arteries and do damage to the heart. These health threats can also harm the lungs of the animal, and heartworm needs to be taken quite seriously. The threat to overall health is so great that heartworm testing has to be part of any checkup with the veterinarian.
An important reason for testing is the symptoms of heartworm are almost unnoticeable in the early stages. More visible signs of the parasite come later when the infection is more pronounced. Coughs, fatigue, loss of appetite, and loss of weight are the most common signs of advanced infection. The animal’s health deteriorates slowly but surely with the presence of the parasite. Presence of numerous heartworms in a dog can result in caval syndrome that can lead to death without immediate surgery. Testing is a major step in bringing the animal back to better health. Early detection of the disease is the best way to bring about rapid recovery.
Testing goes hand in glove with administering preventives to a dog or cat. The American Heartworm Society (AHS) has noted that probably no more than 50% of all dogs in a high risk for heartworm area are given the necessary heartworm preventives. The testing recommended by AHS starts with an annual test for heartworm. The results will determine what preventive medicine should be administered and how much. Additional testing ought to be administered prior to any alteration in the existing preventive medicine or dosage. Because it takes approximately six months before tests indicate the presence of the parasite, a puppy can start a regimen of preventive treatments without the testing. It is recommended that in those places where there is the high risk of heartworm (e.g. year round mosquito populations) the preventive treatments start when the animal is two months old.
The tests require blood samples and may involve looking for antigens to detect infection, or the presence of antibodies that are resisting the heartworms in the body. The testing will not only determine the presence of heartworm, but also the amount of preventive medication to be prescribed to the pet.
A positive diagnosis is going to require immediate action. This would include restriction of a dog’s exercise and possible therapy. Cats will require long term management and possible hospitalization. Treatment of heartworm in dogs does carry some risk. It is expensive and the cost can be hundreds of dollars. The most common drug used to treat heartworm infection, Immiticide, is a poison that will kill the heartworm. It has to be administered several times in a series of injections. Another type of treatment uses the drug Ivermectin combined with Doxycycline. This destroys the heartworm at a slower rate and is less expensive. Trying to use the type of natural remedies ordinarily employed to kill parasites won’t work with heartworm. These are parasites in the blood and not the digestive system.
Even when the heartworms have been killed, the animal’s immune system has to eliminate the remains and bits of heartworm can flow through the bloodstream. The risk is on top of the damage already done to the circulatory system. It is why prior to treatment of existing heartworms the veterinarian will do an examination to determine if the pet is healthy enough to handle the treatment.
Preventative action is clearly the best thing to do when it comes to heartworm. The tests can be performed in the office of the veterinarian and the dog or cat isn’t harmed. An owner must keep in mind that the testing is not a once in a lifetime affair. A schedule for heartworm testing can be established and must be followed. This will not only permit early detection, but will also guarantee that the proper dosage and form of preventive medication are administered. Heartworm is a parasite that destroys an animal’s health long before the infection becomes fatal. Having routine heartworm tests is the best safeguard from this threat to your pet’s well-being.