Blood tests are used by a veterinarian to examine a dog for heartworms. An antigen test looks for particular heartworm proteins, or antigens, that mature female heartworms release into the dog’s circulation. Antigen tests can typically detect infections with one or more adult female heartworms with high accuracy. About 5 months after a dog is bitten by an infected mosquito, the heartworm proteins can first be found in its bloodstream.
Microfilariae are found in a dog’s bloodstream by another test. The presence of microfilariae in the bloodstream reveals that the dog has adult heartworms (because only adult heartworms can mate and produce microfilariae). A dog can have microfilariae found in its bloodstream as early as six months after being bitten by an infected mosquito (because it takes about that long for the heartworms to develop from infective larvae into adults that mate and produce microfilariae).
How is a dog’s heartworm tested?
There are now two tests available to identify canine heartworm illness. Both procedures are carried out at the majority of veterinary hospitals and only a tiny amount of blood is needed.
Dogs should have a heartworm disease test once a year. The method of choice is the heartworm antigen test. A little amount of blood is collected from the dog’s forearm or a neck vein in order to conduct the test. This examination looks for adult heartworms in the dog’s pulmonary arteries and/or heart. The heartworm antigen test is a very reliable and accurate way to identify heartworm disease.
The microfilaria filtration test is the second method used to identify canine heartworm illness. Additionally, a small volume of blood is needed for this straightforward test. Following filtering and staining, the blood is inspected under a microscope. Heartworm infection in the dog is confirmed if microfilariae are found. Unfortunately, the antigen test is more accurate than this one.
Heartworm is a terrible, fatal illness that affects dogs. Every dog residing in an area where heartworm infection is present should have an annual heartworm test.
It’s easy to prevent heartworm. Canine heartworm illness can be prevented using a once-monthly heartworm pill.
Any queries you may have about heartworm can be addressed by the professionals at your neighborhood veterinary clinic.
Do dogs require annual heartworm testing?
In the United States and many other countries across the world, heartworm illness in pets is a serious and potentially fatal condition. Heartworm disease affects pets and is brought on by foot-long worms (heartworms) that reside in the heart, lungs, and blood arteries nearby. These worms cause heart failure, severe lung disease, and harm to other body parts. Dogs, cats, and ferrets are the most common animals affected by heartworm illness, but heartworms can also infect wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions, and, in rare cases, people. Wild animals like foxes and coyotes are major disease vectors because they frequently reside close to urban areas.
Dogs. The dog serves as a natural host for heartworms, allowing them to develop into adults, reproduce, and create offspring. Dogs have been known to have hundreds of worms in their bodies, and their numbers can grow if left untreated. Heartworm disease damages the heart, lungs, and arteries permanently and can have an impact on a dog’s health and quality of life even after the parasites have disappeared. Due to this, heartworm prevention is by far the best option for canines, and when treatment is necessary, it should be given as early in the course of the illness as feasible. Find out more about canine heartworm treatment.
Cats. Heartworm disease in dogs and cats is significantly distinct from one another. The cat is an unusual host for heartworms because few worms in cats mature to adulthood. Heartworm-infected cats frequently have no adult worms and only one to three adult worms in their bodies. This means that heartworm sickness in cats is frequently misdiagnosed, but it’s crucial to realize that even juvenile worms can harm an animal by causing heartworm linked respiratory disease (HARD). Cats can only be protected from the effects of heartworm disease through prevention because the medication used to treat heartworm infections in dogs cannot be administered in cats.
Ferrets. The parasite that causes heartworm infection in dogs and cats also causes heartworm illness in ferrets. A strange hybrid of the illnesses we find in dogs and cats affects ferrets. Like dogs, ferrets are particularly prone to infection and can have more worms than cats. However, just like cats, due to the smaller size of the heart, even a tiny number of worms, perhaps one, can cause fatal damage. Heartworm disease in ferrets is frequently more challenging to diagnose, and there is no proven cure. For ferrets living inside or outside, prevention is essential.
How is heartworm disease transmitted from one pet to another?
The mosquito is crucial to the life cycle of the heartworm. Microfilaria, tiny baby worms produced by adult female heartworms afflicted dogs, foxes, coyotes, or wolves, circulate in the bloodstream. These tiny worms are picked up by a mosquito when it bites and drinks blood from an infected animal. Over the course of 10 to 14 days, these baby worms grow and mature into “infective stage larvae.” The infectious larvae are then left on the skin’s surface of the new host and enter through the bite wound of the infected mosquito when it bites a different dog, cat, or susceptible wild animal. The larvae take about six months to mature into adult heartworms once they have settled inside a new host. Heartworms can survive once they reach maturity for up to 2 or 3 years in cats and for 5 to 7 years in dogs. Due to the lengthy lifespan of these worms, an infected pet may develop an increasing number of worms with each mosquito season.
What are the signs of heartworm disease in dogs?
Many dogs have little or no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. The likelihood that symptoms will appear increases with the length of the infection. Dogs that are active, have severe heartworm infections, or have other health issues may exhibit strong clinical indications.
A slight chronic cough, resistance to exercise, weariness after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss are all potential heartworm disease symptoms. Pets who have heartworm illness may eventually experience heart failure and a large belly because of an excess of fluid in the abdomen. Large heartworm infestations in dogs can cause sudden obstructions in the heart’s blood flow, which can result in a potentially fatal form of cardiovascular collapse. The symptoms of caval syndrome include dark crimson or coffee-colored urine, pale gums, and an abrupt beginning of difficult breathing. Few dogs survive without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm obstruction.
What are the signs of heartworm disease in cats?
Heartworm disease in cats can manifest in very subtle or very obvious ways. Coughing, bouts that resemble asthma, sporadic vomiting, an inability to eat, or weight loss are just a few symptoms. On rare occasions, a cat with the condition may have trouble walking, faint, have seizures, or develop abdominal fluid buildup. Unfortunately, the cat may suddenly collapse or die as the first symptom in some circumstances.
What are the signs of heartworm disease in ferrets?
Heartworm disease symptoms in ferrets are similar to those in dogs, but because of the smaller size of the ferret’s heart, they manifest more quickly. Dogs may not exhibit symptoms until numerous worms have infected their hearts, lungs, and blood vessels, whereas even one worm can seriously impair a ferret’s ability to breathe. Lethargy (i.e., lethargy, tiredness), open mouth, quick breathing, pale blue or muddy gum color, and coughing are signs of this distress.
How significant is my pet’s risk for heartworm infection?
Even if heartworms don’t appear to be an issue in your neighborhood, there are still several things to take into account. Heartworm disease may be more prevalent in your neighborhood than you realize, or you may unintentionally take your pet to a location where heartworms are more prevalent. Each year, new areas of the nation are becoming infected with the heartworm illness. Heartworms can be carried by stray and neglected dogs as well as some wild animals including coyotes, wolves, and foxes. Heartworm illness is spread by mosquitoes carried far by the wind and by sick animals being moved to previously unaffected areas ” (this happened following Hurricane Katrina when 250,000 pets, many of them infected with heartworms, were “adopted and shipped throughout the country).
Heartworm illness has been identified in each of the 50 states, and risk variables are illogically unpredictable. Infection rates vary significantly from year to year, even within communities, due to a number of factors, including climatic fluctuations and the presence of wildlife carriers. Additionally, both indoor and outdoor pets are at risk since sick mosquitoes can enter buildings.
The American Heartworm Society advises that you as a result “consider 12: (1) Have your pet tested for heartworm every 12 months, and (2) administer heartworm preventative to your pet every month of the year.
What do I need to know about heartworm testing?
Heartworm infection is a dangerous, developing illness. The more quickly illness is discovered, the more likely it is that the animal will recover. When a dog, cat, or ferret is infected with heartworms, there are very few, if any, early symptoms of disease, making it crucial to find them with a heartworm test performed by a veterinarian. The test only needs a tiny amount of blood from your pet, and it works by looking for heartworm proteins. While some vets send the samples to a diagnostic lab, others handle heartworm testing in-house. Results are acquired fast in both situations. Additional testing might be requested if your pet tests positively.
When should my pet be tested?
Dogs. Every dog should get an annual heartworm test, which is typically performed as part of a regular checkup for preventive treatment. The testing and timing recommendations are as follows:
- Although puppies under 7 months old can begin heartworm prevention without a heartworm test (it takes at least 6 months for a dog to test positive after it has been infected), they should be tested 6 months after your initial visit, again 6 months later, and then annually after that to make sure they are heartworm-free.
- Prior to beginning heartworm prevention, adult dogs over 7 months old who had not previously been on a preventive need to be tested. They must also be tested after six months, after a year, and then once a year after that.
- You must seek the advice of a vet, restart your dog’s monthly preventive care right away, and then test him again six months later. Retesting is necessary since it takes around 7 months for heartworms to mature before the illness can be identified.
Even when dogs are treated year-round for heartworms, annual testing is required to make sure the preventative regimen is effective. Although heartworm medicines are quite successful, dogs can still contract the disease. A single missed dose of a monthly medication—or giving it late—can render your dog defenseless. Your dog may spit out or vomit a heartworm tablet or rub off a topical medicine even if you administer it as directed. Although they are very effective, heartworm preventives are not perfect. You won’t know your dog requires treatment if you don’t get your dog tested.
Cats. Since adult heartworms are far less common in cats than in dogs, it is more difficult to diagnose heartworm infection in cats. The most popular screening procedure for cats uses both an antigen and an antibody test (the “antibody test detects exposure to heartworm larvae). X-rays or ultrasounds may also be used by your veterinarian to check for heartworm infection. To document ongoing exposure and risk, cats should be tested before starting a preventive regimen and then again as needed. Heartworm infection in cats has no recognized therapy, thus prevention is essential.
Ferrets. Heartworm disease in ferrets can be harder to diagnose. To show the presence of worms in the heart, your veterinarian may advise both antigen testing and diagnostic imaging, such as echocardiography.
What happens if my dog tests positive for heartworms?
The good news is that the majority of heartworm-infected dogs can be successfully treated, which is something no one wants to learn about their dog. If your dog is exhibiting symptoms of a sickness, the objective is to first stabilize him before killing all adult and young worms with the least amount of negative effects possible.
What to anticipate if your dog tests positive is as follows:
- Confirm the diagnosis. An extra and different test should be used to confirm the diagnosis when a dog tests positive on an antigen test. Your veterinarian will want to make certain that therapy is required because the heartworm treatment regimen is both expensive and complicated.
- Limit your exercise. It could be challenging to follow this rule, especially if your dog is used to being active. However, as soon as the diagnosis is established, your dog’s typical physical activities must be limited since physical activity speeds up the rate at which the heartworms destroy the heart and lungs. Your dog should be less active the more serious the symptoms are.
- Cure your dog’s illness. It could be necessary to stabilize your dog’s condition with the appropriate therapy prior to starting the actual heartworm treatment. The procedure can take several months in severe heartworm disease cases or when a dog has another significant ailment.
- administering care. After determining that your dog is healthy and prepared for heartworm treatment, your vet will suggest a treatment plan that includes a number of steps. The American Heartworm Society gives recommendations for creating this strategy. The success rate of treatment in dogs with no or minor heartworm disease symptoms, such as coughing or exercise intolerance, is high. Although there is a greater chance of complications, more severe disease can still be successfully treated. Dogs with many worms may have little or no symptoms early in the course of the disease, and the severity of heartworm disease does not usually correlate with the severity of symptoms.
- Test (and guard against) success. Your veterinarian will do a heartworm test around 9 months following the end of the treatment to ensure that all heartworms have been eradicated. For the remainder of his life, you should give your dog heartworm prevention year-round to reduce the chance that he may get the disease once more.
What if my cat tests positive for heartworms?
Like dogs, cats are susceptible to contracting heartworms. However, there are variations in the nature of the illness and how it is identified and treated. Some infections go away on their own because cats are not the best hosts for heartworms, albeit they can harm the respiratory system. The vascular system of the cat is also impacted by heartworms, which result in symptoms including coughing, wheezing, and breathing difficulties. In cats, heartworms may also spread to the brain, eyes, and spinal cord, among other organs. The adult worms can perish inside the cat’s body, which can lead to serious consequences like blood clots in the lungs and lung inflammation.
If your cat has heartworms, you can anticipate the following:
- Diagnosis. Cats often have 6 or fewer worms and may have just one or two, compared to diseased dogs, who may have 30 or more worms in their heart and lungs. However, whereas the quantity of worms affects how severe heartworm disease is in canines, just one or two worms can seriously illen a cat. A physical examination, an X-ray, a full blood count, and various blood tests are necessary for a diagnosis that can be difficult to make. Also possible is an ultrasonography procedure.
- Treatment. Unfortunately, there is no medication that has been approved for the treatment of heartworm infection in cats, and the medication that is safe for dogs cannot be used on cats. However, with the right veterinarian care, cats with heartworm illness can frequently be helped. Stabilizing your cat and coming up with a long-term management strategy are the objectives.
- Watch your kitty. Heartworms in heartworm-positive cats may spontaneously disappear, but the harm they cause may not be repairable. Chest X-rays every 6 to 12 months may be advised if your cat is not exhibiting symptoms of respiratory distress but worms have been found in the lungs. Small dosages of prednisolone may be used to assist reduce inflammation if only minor symptoms are present.
- give veterinary assistance. The need for further support may arise if the condition is severe. In order to offer therapy, such as intravenous fluids, medications to address lung and heart problems, antibiotics, and general nursing care, your veterinarian may advise hospitalization. Heartworms may be surgically removed in specific circumstances.
- Keep up the prevention. Both indoor and outdoor cats are prone to contracting heartworm disease, as has been shown by a cat who has already contracted it. It’s crucial to give your cat monthly heartworm preventives, which can be found as pills or spot-on treatments. If your cat gets bitten by an infected mosquito again, preventative measures stop new infections from emerging.
What if my ferret tests positive for heartworms?
Heartworms can be quite dangerous for ferrets. However, there are variations in the nature of the illness and how it is identified and treated. Heartworms can be quite dangerous for ferrets. Heartworms in the circulatory system also impact the immune system of the ferret and result in symptoms including coughing, wheezing, breathing difficulties, and even unexpected death. Ferrets can also exhibit enlarged abdomens, fluid in the lungs, decreased appetite, weight loss, and hind leg paralysis. Ferrets with heartworm illness frequently have bilirubinuria, or dark urine.
If your ferret’s heartworm test is positive, you can anticipate the following:
- Diagnosis. One ferret has been found to have as many as 14 heartworms, yet even just one worm can have a devastating impact on the animal. A physical examination, an X-ray or ultrasound, a full blood count, and other blood tests are all necessary for a diagnosis that can be challenging.
- Treatment. Unfortunately, there is no medication that has been approved for the treatment of heartworm infection in ferrets, and the medication that is suitable for dogs cannot be used on ferrets. However, with the right veterinarian care, ferrets with heartworm disease can frequently be helped. Stabilizing your pet and coming up with a long-term management strategy are the objectives.
- Watch over your ferret. The majority of heartworm-infected ferrets will exhibit clinical symptoms. Chest X-rays every 6 to 12 months may be advised if lung worms have been found. Small dosages of prednisolone may be used to assist reduce inflammation if only minor symptoms are present.
- give veterinary assistance. The need for further support may arise if the condition is severe. In order to offer therapy, such as intravenous fluids, medications to address lung and heart problems, antibiotics, and general nursing care, your veterinarian may advise hospitalization. Heartworms may be surgically removed in extremely rare circumstances.
- Keep up the prevention. Heartworm infection can have fatal effects on ferrets because of their high susceptibility to the condition. Both indoor and outdoor ferrets are at risk, therefore your pet should always receive a monthly preventative. If your ferrets are bitten by an infected mosquito again, preventative measures stop new diseases from emerging.