Heartworm Disease

Heartworm disease is a condition that can be found all over Australia, protection against this disease is vital to stop your pet being infected by it

What causes heartworm disease?

Heartworm is spread by mosquitoes. When a mosquito bites and feeds on the blood of an infected pet it ingests microfilariae. The mosquito becomes a host while the microfilariae mature. When the same mosquito bites another pet it infects the healthy pet with heartworm larvae. The larvae migrate through the pet’s tissues and circulatory system, eventually reaching the heart and lungs where adult worms grow and reproduce.

Why is heartworm disease dangerous to my pet?

In dogs, the disease initially causes a cough and as the disease progresses, they become inactive and lethargic. Exercise cannot be tolerated without coughing and becoming breathless. In advanced cases, fluid leaks from the blood vessels and accumulates in the lungs and lower part of the abdomen. Sometimes the animal suddenly collapses without warning become very weak and unable to breathe properly. The severity of the disease depends upon the amount of lung damage and how a pet’s immune system responds. Although related to worm numbers, it is more a function of the individual dog’s reaction to the parasite.

In cats, heartworm disease is uncommon. The worms don’t survive well in a cat’s and usually unable to breed. However, occasionally disease can be caused by just one worm which can cause a cough, breathlessness and sudden death.

How can heartworm disease be prevented?

Treatment of this disease is expensive and requires long-term after-care making prevention is the best choice. There are several choices for heartworm prevention, oral tablets are generally combine with flea or worming treatment.
Yearly injection: Proheart (SR12) an injection given by veterinary staff which is re-dosed every year.
Monthly heartworm and intestinal wormer tablets: Milbemax.
Monthly heartworm and flea and spot-ons or tablets: Nextgard Spectra or Revolution.

We recommended yearly injection as monthly products have less compliance and may be given late or months are missed.

When should I start prevention?

Heartworm prevention can be started at 12 weeks of age. If your pet is older and heartworm prevention has not been consistent then a test needs to be done to determine if your pet has heartworm. This quick test happens in consult 6 months after prevention has started.

Testing is recommended to ensure your pet does not have heartworm. The test can only recognise the antigen from an adult worm and larvae develops to an adult worm 6 months after an infected mosquito injects the dog. The SR12 injection is able to kill some larval stages meaning that if there is a lapse in the heartworm injection (SR12) for more than 3 months then a test is recommended when the larva has progressed to an adult stage.

About the author: Megan Reilly

Megan is a Veterinary Nurse Technician - the highest qualification available to Veterinary Nurses in Australia, Megan has a fun loving spirit and brings a positive energy to Heights Pet Hospital. She is a talented nurse who has a love for all patients and is continuously updating our processes and procedures, always finding a better or more effective way. She has been at the hospital since its opening in 2011 and in the veterinary industry since 2000, starting out as a kennel hand and then completing veterinary nursing cert IV in 2006. She has also undertaken additional study, gaining her qualification as a Veterinary Nurse Technician in 2015.

Megan runs our puppy school classes and has a special interest in canine behaviour. She continues to give back to the industry with her dedication to training new veterinary nurses and work experience students.

Megan has Trevor, a black domestic short hair cat with a penchant for extravagant bow ties! and Howard, a fiesty Border-Terrier.

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