What is Heartworm?

The scientific name for heartworm is Dirofilaria immitis and it could be possibly one of the most sinister parasites that can affect your pet. Heartworm has a complex life cycle and is transmitted by mosquitoes which are almost impossible to keep away from. Most dogs that develop heartworm disease are outdoor dogs although not exclusively. Cats can develop heartworm disease however they seem to be much more resilient and less frequently affected then dogs. Heartworm occurs in many regions of Australia including Adelaide.

The heartworm life cycle starts in the mosquito where it becomes active and once your pet is bitten it transfers microfilaria (immature heartworm) into the blood stream. After six months of development inside the body, the microfilaria reach the heart and lung blood vessels where they can grow up to 25 cm in length. Once established, the production of offspring (microfilaria) commences and when a mosquito bites the dog again it picks up the new microfilaria and transfers them to another animal.

How do I know that my pet has heartworm disease?

The symptoms of heartworm disease are often not recognised until the parasites start affecting the function of the heart. Coughing, weight loss, exercise intolerance, difficulties breathing and pallor are common ones. A build up of fluid in the abdomen and coughing up blood are indicators of advanced heartworm disease.

The best way of diagnosing heartworm disease is to have a blood test done which tells us with a high accuracy whether your pet has heartworm or not. Further assessment is usually necessary to determine the stage of the heartworm disease and if your pet can be treated at all. Chest X rays are taken to determine the amount of damage to the heart and blood vessels of the lungs. Stage 1 and 2 have the best prognosis while Stage 3 usually has a poor prognosis.

Is there treatment available for heartworm disease?

Heartworm disease can be treated very successfully in early stages but once the disease is advanced it becomes much more risky and complex. The treatment consists of injecting an adulticide drug (to kill the adult heartworms), removing immature heartworms from the body and treating concurrent problems such as clotting disorders or heart failure. The treatment can be long, costly and sometimes unrewarding.

Prevention is the key…

Heartworm disease is a scourge that all pet owners should want to prevent. Thankfully, prevention is easy.

We recommend two options: Advocate and Proheart injection. Advocate kills more kinds of parasites in dogs and cats than any other and all in one topical product. With one easy monthly application, Advocate eliminates fleas and flea larvae, heartworm, hookworm, roundworm and ear mites. Advocate for dogs also kills whipworm, mange mites and lice. Proheart is also widely used and is a very safe product. It is a once a year heartworm preventative available from your veterinarian that gives your dog 12 months protection from heartworm disease in one dose. Proheart injection is administered by your vet and can be used in all dogs from 3 months of age. However since your puppy will be growing rapidly in the first 9 months of life, it needs a booster after 6 months (at 9 months of age) and then it becomes a once a year injection. For convenience it can be given with your dog’s annual vaccination.

When should I start Heartworm prevention?

It is very important that you know with certainty that your pet is free from heartworm disease before starting on any heartworm preventive medication. Therefore, unless your veterinarian knows that your pet is free from heartworm disease, he or she may advise that your pet is tested for heartworm infection before the medication is administered.There are no significant side effects as a result of using Advocate or Proheart injection (if the dog/cat is heartworm positive). The main reason why we test is to make sure there are no adult worms in the body, because they cannot be treated by any of these products. As a routine, heartworm preventive medication is best started when a pup or kitten is eight to twelve weeks of age. At this age, the pet does not require a blood test and if it is kept on the medication for life, heartworm will be kept under control.

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