Watch out. Heartworm’s about!

There have been recent reports of in heartworm cases in the Hunter Valley region.

Pet owners, particularly dog owners need to be vigilant and take note of the causes, symptoms and preventative methods of this parasitic disease.

Here’s everything you need to know about heartworm and how you can prevent your pet from becoming infected.

What is heartworm?

Heartworm is a parasitic worm that’s transferred to pets through mosquito bites. 

The infected mosquito injects worm larvae into your pet’s skin. These larvae then travel to their heart and lungs through the vascular system. The larvae then mature into adults and reproduce.

The worms physically block the heart valves, putting your pet’s heart and lungs under immense strain. This process can take up to six months, so it can be a long time after infection before your pet shows any symptoms.

Symptoms of heartworm

Both cats and dogs can get heartworm, but dogs are much more susceptible to the disease. Cats aren’t natural hosts to heartworms and the parasite often dies before maturation.

Symptoms include:

  • Soft, dry cough
  • Lethargy or loss of stamina
  • Weight loss due to decreased appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen or bulging chest
  • Collapse or fainting

It’s important to remember that this is a slow onset disease and once symptoms appear, it’s likely to be in the advanced stages of infection. Your pet will not show any signs in the early stages of the disease.

This means prevention is your safest option.

How to prevent heartworm

Prevention begins at 10-12 weeks of age and takes the form of monthly tablets or yearly injections administered by your vet.

  • Annual heartworm injection (Proheart): Can be started at six months old (usually at desexing) and is repeated yearly at the time of your dog’s booster vaccinations.
  • Oral heartworm tablets: Milpro Simparica TRIO and Nexgard Spectra all have monthly heartworm treatments. Many tablet brands also protect your pet from intestinal worms and other parasites.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If your dog misses a dose and contracts heartworm, if given a preventative tablet again while infected, it’s possible for them to suffer from a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.

Both these preventative treatments only kill the larvae, so missing regular doses can allow the larvae to live until adulthood where these preventatives no longer kill them.

If it gets to this point; treatment rather than prevention is needed.

If your pet hasn’t had any heartworm treatment for more than six months, they’ll need a blood test to ensure they don’t have the disease before resuming preventative treatment.

How is heartworm treated?

If heartworm is suspected, vets will perform a physical examination and blood tests. If further investigation is required, x-rays and ultrasounds can be performed.

Depending on the vet’s recommendation and your pet’s condition, heartworm has a few treatment routes, including a series of injections that kills the adult heartworms.

They can also be treated with an antibiotic (doxycycline), to combat any bacterial infections from the heartworm itself.

Unfortunately, if your pet has heartworm, they are likely to have damage to their heart, lungs, blood vessels, kidneys and liver. It’s much better to avoid lifelong damage through prevention.

Do you have any questions?

If you have any questions about heartworm or think your pet’s displaying symptoms, don’t hesitate to get in touch and chat with one of our vets.

You can call us on 4955 6670 or book an appointment online.

Meet the Fletcher Vet team

We enjoy a reputation as one of Newcastle’s best vet practices. Dr Paul Robin and his team have been caring for local pets (and their families) since 1998.

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