Many dog owners are familiar with the annual spring ritual of bringing your dog to the animal hospital to have a blood test taken to be used for heartworm screening in preparation for preventive treatment through the warmer months.
The following information can help you to understand why.
Heartworm is indeed a parasitic worm that can become established in the heart and pulmonary vessels of dogs (ask your vet about the risks to other pets including cats and ferrets). If untreated, the presence of this parasite can lead to clinical signs of coughing, inability to exercise and eventually life threatening heart failure.
It is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito and does not require the dog to have had contact with any other dogs. This parasite was, until about 20 years ago, a problem seen mostly in the Southern U.S. but it has become established in Ontario and other parts of Canada (both in the pet population and in wildlife).
Fortunately, detection and prevention is relatively simple.
Detection: The heartworm test is an ELISA test (a DNA test to detect the presence of adult heartworms). It is performed on a blood sample and the results of this test is generally returned to us the day after sampling.
Thanks to our Lab Services partner, IDEXX Laboratories, we are able to offer additional analyses of the blood sample taken for heartworm testing at a reasonable cost.
This is called Wellness Blood Testing and it provides important information to the veterinarians including blood cell counts (to detect infection, anemia and other problems) in addition to evaluating blood sugar levels, liver and kidney function. Most of our clients choose this option to allow for early disease detection and overall health monitoring.
Prevention: There are a number of heartworm preventive medications available. They are administered once monthly while mosquitos are present - late spring until November.
The heartworm prevention medication is part of a comprehensive internal and external parasite prevention regime for the warmer months. We address internal parasites like roundworm, whipworm and hookworm and external parasites like fleas, mites and ticks. Ask for more information.