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How veterinarians diagnose canine heartworm disease?

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Posted on May 22 2018

Canine filariasis can be very difficult to treat. The treatment of heart disease often involves dangerous complications. Early detection is important prevention - it's even better.



Cause and symptoms of canine heartworm disease

Canine filariasis occurs when Dirofilaria immitis worms infest the heart of your dog. These worms are spread by mosquito bites, so dogs are more vulnerable to infection during mosquito season, and in places where mosquitoes are frequent.

Symptoms include cough, weight loss, weakness, dull hair and an unwillingness to exercise.

Types of heartworm tests

If you live in an area where mosquitoes are frequent, if only by seasonality, your dog should get a heartworm test a year. Ideally, your dog should take a monthly heartworm preventive medication. Heartworm infection can be symptom-free, especially in its early stages, so your veterinarian will want to make sure your dog is not infected before prescribing preventive medication.

There are three common types of test your veterinarian could use to make a diagnosis of the heartworm.

  • An antigen test of the heart parasite looks for the presence of proteins excreted by the sexually mature female heart parasite.
  • A filter test should look for the presence of microfilariae or larvae of the heartworm in your dog's blood.
  • A heartworm antibody test looks for the presence of heartworm antibodies in your dog's blood.


Prevention of canine filariasis

Canine heartworm disease can be easily prevented with the use of a monthly heartworm preventative based on ivermectin. Ivermectin-based medicines kill the parasite while they are still in a larval phase, preventing them from growing into adult worms that infest heart.

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