Understanding Canine Heartworm Disease and its Treatment Options

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Heartworm disease is a serious infection that affects pets such as cats, dogs and horses. It’s a condition caused by parasitic worms, referred to as heartworms, which is primarily transmitted by infected mosquitos. These worms can result in a number of medical issues affecting the main organs in a pet including the heart, kidney, lungs, and liver. Heartworm disease is a fatal condition if left untreated and the treatment can be costly if the infection has become severe. That’s why regular canine heartworm antigen testing is recommended.

Symptoms and stages
When a pet is exposed to an infected mosquito bite, it will take some time before the signs of infections become evident. The pet will start to exhibit mild symptoms such as coughing, but as the condition worsens, there will be more clear and severe symptoms. The three stages of heartworm disease are asymptomatic, coughing and chronic immune stimulation stage.

The asymptomatic phase refers to the early stages of heartworm disease where there are no physical signs of infection. In this stage, the pet will try naturally battle off the parasite through its immune system. If unsuccessful, the condition progresses to the next stage where tissue inflammation begins.

Entering the next stage which is primarily characterized by coughing, your dog will start to develop breathing difficulties caused by inflammation of the lungs. Other than coughing, you may notice traces of blood on your pet’s nose, indicating the severity of the condition. At this stage, it’s evident that your dog is suffering from something and immediate canine heartworm antigen test is needed.

The third and most progressive stage is synonymous to a ticking bomb and is associated with massive stimulation of immune. This immune is meant to fight off the worms, however, the excess of it end up causing serious tissue inflammation. The symptoms are now clear.

There are two distinct types of antigen heartworm tests and they are microfilariae and antigen testing. Microfilariae heartworm test uses blood samples to test the presence of heartworm in the bloodstream. However, this test was not that conclusive and in other instances, it failed to give accurate results, making way for the canine heartworm antigen test.

The antigen testing works by detecting foreign organism in your dog’s bloodstream. The test looks for traces of heartworm skin which are the antigens and it has proven to be the most effective heartworm test for pets. Each year, an estimated one million dogs are said to be heartworm positive in the United States. As a result, veterinary doctors and other practitioners have invested heavily in developing other types of tests, which include X-rays, ultrasounds and bloodwork.

Looking at the different tests, heartworm antigen has proved to be more effective than microfilaria due to a number of reasons. The main one being the inconclusive test results due to lack of microfilaria in the bloodstream. However, you should note that no test guarantees you 100% and that is why it’s important to consider having your dog checked more than once.