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Heartworm Infection

Oscar is a seven-year-old Terrier mix who was adopted from a shelter three years ago. He was presented for his annual exam and vaccines, and there was no history of health problems.

SIGNALMENT:

Seven-year-old Terrier mix

HISTORY:

Oscar is a seven-year-old Terrier mix who was adopted from a shelter three years ago. He was presented for his annual exam and vaccines, and there was no history of health problems.

PHYSICAL EXAMINATION:

Oscar appeared very healthy upon physical exam. No problems were found in his eyes, ears or skin and his heart sounds and breathing were both normal. His vaccines were administered and blood was drawn for a heartworm test.

LAB:

Heartworm test - Positive

Due to the results of a positive heartworm test, further lab tests were recommend to determine the severity of the infection. Chest x-rays were taken and a blood panel and urinalysis were sent out to the lab.

RESULTS:

Oscar's blood panel and urinalysis came back normal, and his chest x-rays did not show any evidence of heart enlargement or pulmonary congestion. Based on these results Oscar was determined to have a Class 1 heartworm infection.

TREATMENT:

Oscar was treated for heartworm disease with the drug Melarsomine. It was administered for two consecutive days by deep intramuscular injection.

DISCUSSION:

Heartworm infection is a potentially life threatening disease caused by the worm Dirofilaria immitus. Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes; the process starts when the mosquito takes a blood meal from an infected dog. The mosquito then passes on the heartworm larvae to the next dog they bite. Infective larvae undergo molting and migrate preferentially to the pulmonary arteries of the lung lobes.

As with Oscar, many dogs are asymptomatic when the disease is diagnosed by the positive result of a routine screening test. Dogs with the disease that do not get tested progress to show symptoms including fatigue, coughing, shortness of breath with or without exercise, coughing up blood and heart failure. Until recently, heartworm disease was most commonly diagnosed in endemic areas. It is now being diagnosed with increasing frequency in San Diego as infected dogs move here and because the coyote population is thought to be an active reservoir of the parasite.

Due to the increased frequency of local infection and because a lot of mosquitoes are expected this year, heartworm testing and heartworm preventatives are strongly recommended. The heartworm test is a simple blood test with results available in minutes. Heartworm preventatives are available as convenient once a month tablets sold in six-month supplies.

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