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How can I tell if my dog has heartworm?
Has your dog been wheezing, coughing or having difficulty exercising recently? Before you chalk up the symptoms to the common cold or allergies, it is important to rule out more serious conditions, like heartworm disease. This disease, transmitted by mosquitoes, can become deadly if not treated.
Signs to look for
Heartworm disease has a variety of symptoms depending on the stage it is in in the animal. Coughing is one of the most common symptoms of the disease, since the heartworms are wreaking havoc on the dog's cardiovascular system. As the worms grow larger in the animal's heart, it might experience weight loss, fainting, intolerance for exercise and edema. Dogs also experience heart failure. In this case, blood cannot return to the heart so it backs up in the liver.
How to reach a heartworm diagnosis
If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it is crucial that you bring it to the veterinarian for an exam. The vet can diagnose heartworm disease using blood tests, which show the presence of adult worms by their protein in the blood, and the microfilaria, the early stages of worms. Blood tests also show any immune antibodies, which indicate that the animal's body has been stimulated to attack the infection. X-rays are also helpful in reaching a heartworm disease diagnosis because they reveal an abnormally large heart in dogs. Usually, a dog with heartworms will have a heart that is enlarged on the right side because it is filled with worms. X-rays can also show an allergic reaction in the lungs caused by heartworms.
Keeping your pooch worm-free
Heartworm is one of the more serious issues a dog can get, but it is also one of the most easily prevented. You can ensure your pooch never has to go through this process by staying up to date on its heartworm preventative pet drugs. Just like you administer flea and tick preventatives like Comfortis, Pet Armor and Frontline each month, make sure you are giving your pooch medication like Revolution, which prevents heartworm disease and kills fleas.
Your vet will usually recommend your dog gets a blood test before getting started on heartworm medication. In fact, most vets do an annual heartworm blood test on dogs, since giving prescription heartworm medication can be harmful to pets that are infected.