Heartworm disease is a silent killer of dogs and cats. It's a slow, insidious disease that gradually incapacitates pets. By the time you notice the telltale signs of the disease, the damage that has been caused is serious.
This is one disease that can be totally prevented and now, a yearly form of heartworm prevention is available to make your job even easier.
Initially, heartworm disease was a condition only found in the northern parts of Australia. However, the disease has been gradually squirming southward and now is seen in NSW, Melbourne, Adelaide, Western Australia and Alice Springs and is present throughout Queensland.
What causes heartworm disease?
Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes. After the pet is injected by an infected mosquito, adult worms eventually start to grow inside a pet's heart and lungs, causing very serious damage. Being so large, they are a major barrier to the free passage of blood from the heart to the lungs. The infection slowly progresses. The heart dilates and becomes weak and in the lungs, the worms cause scarring and pneumonia. They can live in the heart and lungs for up to 5-7 years.
What effect does heartworm disease have on a pet?
In a dog, the disease initially causes a cough which progressively becomes worse. The dog becomes inactive and lethargic due to the weakening of its heart. It will not be able to tolerate exercise without coughing. In severe cases, fluid leaks out of the blood vessels and accumulates in the lungs and the lower part of the abdomen. This fluid gives the dog's abdomen a 'pear-shaped' appearance, resembling the shape of a balloon filled with water
Sometimes, the animal will suddenly collapse. This occurs with no warning. It is associated with deep, laboured breathing, extreme weakness and a blue appearance to the tongue, and very pale gums.
In cats, heartworm disease is well recognised as a problem. Serious disease can be caused with just one worm, whereas in dogs, one or two worms are usually well tolerated. Tragically, the most common sign of the disease in cats is sudden death, but if your cat is breathless or develops a cough, you should also be concerned.
How can heartworm disease be prevented?
Thankfully, preventing heartworm disease is easy these days and all dogs and cats should be on some form of preventive medication.
There are several choices available today, ranging from monthly heartworm chewables, tablets and even topical spot ons. There are several brands available, such as Heartgard, Sentinel, Interceptor, Panoramis and Advocate. Some of these products are an “all in one” preventions, covering the intestinal worms and fleas aswell. The most recent advance in heartworm prevention is the yearly Once-A-Year Heartworm Prevention injection, in adult dogs done by your veterinarian here at the clinic. This is only available for dogs and can even be started in puppies as young as 3mths of age but needs to be boostered at the ages of 6mths then 18mths. The ideal time for your adult dog to change over to the injection is at the time of its annual vaccination.
While this is not suitable for cats, the Once-A-Year Heartworm Prevention will be attractive for those dog owners that have difficulty remembering to give their dog its monthly heartworm preventive.
It is very important that you know with certainty that your dog is free from heartworm disease before starting on any heartworm preventive medication, including Once-A-Year Heartworm Prevention. Therefore, unless your veterinarian knows that your dog is free from heartworm disease, he or she may advise that your dog is tested for heartworm infection before the medication is sold to you.
For more advice on heartworm prevention, please feel free to call us or come in and chat to our friendly staff.