Heartworm disease is more of a threat to dogs then our cat population and has a long history of causing serious and debilitating illness to man’s best friend. It is in effect a worm which develops in the heart and the major vessels leaving the heart.
Heartworm is a condition which is spread by mosquitos biting your dog or cat. It is thought and this seems to be justified that cats much less commonly suffer from clinical manifestations of the disease than dogs and so some will argue that cat are less at risk.
Classic signs of the condition are coughing, loss of energy, reduced ability to exercise and weight loss. There is also a more serious risk in heavy infections of a massive disturbance to blood cells which results in an acute onset of haemolysis (destruction of red blood cells) and this can lead to acute death.
As the condition is spread by mosquitos not too many of our dogs could be considered at zero risk. We therefore recommend prevention in all dogs. Over the past 20 to 30 years the widespread use of protection by pet owners has massively reduced the occurrence of this serious disease.
Like all infectious diseases this condition has been very much beaten by the use of drugs to stop the spread and a community response from pet owners medicating their dogs regularly throughout their lives. The on-going control of this condition will always depend on the so-called “herd immunity” and this means we need a good number of responsible pet owners to continue to protect their pets to keep the incidence of the disease low.
How can I protect my dog or cat?
You can start any young dog or cat on heartworm protection if they are less than 6 months of age. If your pet is over 6 months or has not received protective medication in the last 6 months then we recommend a blood test before starting preventative medicine to ensure your pet is not already infected. If there are already worms in your pet’s heart and vessels then these will be killed by preventative treatment. The acute death of these worms can lead to blood clots and blood cell damage resulting in serious illness and possible death. A simple and quick blood test done at the vets can check this and can be done in 5 minutes after a small blood sample is collected.
We recommend dogs start from 6 to 12 weeks of age and we can use monthly medicines which combine intestinal worm protection until 6 months of age.
After 6 months we recommend the annual injection which is available for dogs but not cats. This annual protection needs to be repeated after 9 months when it is given at 6 months as we must account for the growth and weight changes of our growing young pets. If your pet is given the injection at 6 months of age (often at the same time as neutering operation) then protection will nicely coincide with the first important vaccine booster date at 15 months of age. This date will become the date and time for your pet’s annual heartworm injection along with a check up and a vaccination/vaccine immunity visit.
There are a number of other products available for monthly and combination heartworm plus intestinal worm and flea control products which we would be happy to explain for a control strategy for the well being of your pet and the health of you and any other in contact family members especially children.
Please contact the surgery if you have any further queries regarding heartworm prevention and the well being of your pet.
By Albany Creek Veterinary Surgery
Last updated on 12 September 2019