Heartworm is a parasite that can be readily transmitted between an infected pet and your pet, by mosquitoes. The immature stages of heartworm are transferred after the mosquito bites and then migrate through the blood stream until they lodge in the right side of the heart and develop into adults. This whole cycle takes 6 months to be completed.
The adult worms can reach 35cm in length and cause damage to the blood vessels and interfere with the blood supply to the lungs. The increased workload on the heart may eventually result in HEART FAILURE.
In the past – it was mainly dogs who contracted heartworm and especially those living in tropical areas where mosquitoes were very prevalent. However due to frequent travel by owners and pets, this disease is now extremely prevalent in most capital cities, especially Perth.
Recently heartworm has been found in cats. In each of the numerous cases around the Perth metropolitan area, the diagnosis has only been made post-mortem (after the cats have died). Unfortunately unlike infected dogs which show typical symptoms, infected cats often die without warning. The typical symptoms shown by infected dogs include – chronic cough, listlessness, laboured breathing, fatigue and weight loss.
Tests are readily available to diagnose heartworm in dogs and just recently a test has become available for cats. The tests involve taking a small volume of blood and results are often back within 24 hours.
Heartworm can be treated in dogs, however it is ARSENIC based and poses a great deal of risk to the patient – often hospitalisation for up to a week is required. On top of this, the therapy is very expensive and some dogs may not survive the course.
For these reasons heartworm is much more easily PREVENTED than treated.
Prevention relies on regular medication to kill the immature stages before they develop into adults. There are daily tablets (for dogs)or monthly tablets (for cats and dogs)- the choice is individual, but most people prefer the monthly tablets or an annual Proheart injection. Which ever tablets are chosen they MUST BE GIVEN AT THE SAME TIME ON A REGULAR BASIS or they will not be effective and you may unknowingly expose your pet to heartworm.
Heartworm in dogs can now be prevented with a yearly injection. This is a considerably more easy way of preventing heartworm for those of us that have trouble remembering monthly medication, and whats more, we’ll remind you when your best friend is due each year.
Preventative medication in pups and kittens may be started as early as 6 weeks of age. The life cycle of heartworm takes 6 months to be completed, therefore if your pup starts preventative medication prior to this age, no blood test is required.