Heartworm is a parasitic disease that can affect any dog regardless of age, sex or habitat. It is found in many parts of Australia. Heartworm is spread by mosquitoes, and tends to have a higher incidence in areas heavily populated by mosquitoes. Dogs are considered the most common host for heartworms, however heartworms may also infect more than thirty animal species (including foxes, domestic cats, ferrets) and, rarely, even humans.
What are heartworms?
Heartworms are parasites that live in the blood of a dog’s heart and adjacent blood vessels. They can grow from ten to thirty centimetres in length, reach maturation 6 to 7 months after infection and live for approximately five to seven years. Adult heartworms living in the heart produce offspring, known as microfilariae, which circulate in the animal’s blood. When a female mosquito bites an infected animal, it sucks out the blood containing the microfilariae. When the mosquito bites another pet, the infectious larvae are transmitted. In many cases the infected dog will not show symptoms in the early stages.
Heartworm is the most serious common parasite in dogs because it stresses the dog’s heart by restricting blood flow and also damages other internal organs. The heart may enlarge and become weakened due to an increased workload, and congestive heart failure may occur. Left untreated, the disease can be fatal to dogs.
Blood screening tests can verify the presence of heartworms. Ultrasound and x-rays are used to detect the disease in its later stages. Prompt detection prevents needless suffering.
Heartworm treatment and prevention
The good news is that most dogs with heartworm can be successfully treated, usually with drugs (adulticide, microfilaricide) that kill adult heartworms and their offspring. But prevention is the best solution – it’s safer, less expensive, and better for your pet!
There are a variety of options for preventing heartworm infection, including an injectable, monthly topicals and monthly chewable or flavoured tablets. Preventative medications are extremely effective and when given properly, on a regular basis, can completely prevent your pet from contracting heartworm.
But remember, year-round or seasonal heartworm protection is as good as your diligence in remembering to give your pet the prescribed medication, as directed by your veterinarian!
Depending on where you live, your veterinarian may recommend a repellant to help avoid mosquitoe bites.
Canine heartworm symptoms include:
Fatigue, a dog that tires easily
Rough hair coat.
Ask your veterinarian
Because of the regional and climate-dependant nature of the heartworm cycle, it is crucial to consult your veterinarian before giving any medication to your pet. Your veterinarian is your best reference, with expert knowledge of the heartworm cycle and transmission patterns in your region, along with the individual health and activity profile of your dog.
Before starting a preventive program, all dogs that could possibly be affected with mature heartworms should be tested as preventive medicines may cause severe reactions in dogs that are already hosts to adult heartworms. A dog that is on a preventive medicine should be tested routinely to ensure ongoing protection-especially when a dose has been missed or forgotten.
Can you catch heartworm and other parasites from your pet?
Mosquitoes transmit heartworm, not pets. Humans are unnatural hosts for heartworm – therefore cases of infection are rare. Many heartworm preventative medicines for pets also control other parasites such as hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms and whipworms. Parasitic infections that can be transmitted from animals to humans
Worming is one of the first health care issues pet owners need to address as pups and kittens are the most susceptible. As their name suggests, intestinal worms are parasites that live inside your pet’s intestines. These worms range in size from small to surprisingly large (up to 18cm in length). Regardless of their size however, they all have negative, and potentially deadly effects.
Most species of animal, as well as humans, can be infected with intestinal worms including dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, fish, birds and reptiles.
Common intestinal worms in Australian pets are:
If your pet has a large number of worms it may find it difficult to maintain body condition and it can lose weight. In some cases it can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and even anaemia (a low red blood cell level). Occasionally, heavy intestinal worm burdens can cause death.
Worms sometimes have complex lifecycles which involve a period of existence and development outside your pet. Understanding the life cycle of a specific worm is important so that strategies for treatment and prevention can be designed and implemented. For instance, some tapeworms need to pass through fleas to complete their lifecycle, so flea prevention is an important method of controlling tapeworms.
It is important to maintain a routine worming treatment for your pets, to reduce the incidence of infection and to reduce environmental contamination. There are many worming treatments available for the various worm infections that occur in our pets.These are available as tablets, spot-ons, or pastes. Re-infection is a common problem, particularly in pets that are in contact with a heavily contaminated environment. Another very important reason to worm your pets is to protect your family; as children in particular can become infected with certain dog and cat worms.
Below are some tips to consider regarding worm prevention:
Promptly clean up pet faeces
Practice good hygiene, always encourage children to wash their hands regularly (especially after playing in dirt or sandpits, playing with pets or prior to eating)
Prevent children from playing where the soil may be contaminated
Keep your pet's environment clean
Always dispose of dog faeces in public parks and playgrounds
Please call us to discuss an intestinal worming program for your pet.