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Community Rx (old)

What Pet Owners Should Know About Heartworm

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Pet owners should have their dogs tested for heartworm each year, says Elizabeth Murphy, our pet healthy expert. “Heartworm disease is very, very common. It’s actually common in dogs, and other species closely related to dogs, such as wolves and coyotes.”

Interview highlights

Q. Dogs seem to have little defense against them. But how about cats?

A. “Cats can receive heartworm from a mosquito. They can develop into one or two heartworm. It depends on the sex of that heartworm. They can actually grow to a foot in length over several years. And cat’s blood vessels going back to the heart around the lungs are very small…When they begin to have a few heartworms that have reached maturity, they begin to have exercise intolerance, a soft cough, a little bit of extra effort in breathing, and poor exercise tolerance.”

Q. How’s it detected?

A. “Every year every dog should have a heartworm test.  The heartworm test for dogs is two types of tests. One is a filter test where literally the blood is filtered and the baby forms are detected, but not all dogs carry the larva form at all time. They can have the adults without the larvae. So the most reliable test is the antigen test. That detects the dog’s body’s reaction to the presence of heartworms.”