Heartworm

Heartworm is a serious yet preventable condition.

OVERVIEW

Heartworm disease is a preventable disease that is caused by a worm. It causes serious disease in many mammals, including dogs and cats. Mosquitoes carry the larvae and transfer them during feeding. Heartworm is a worm that affects the heart, lungs, and blood vessels around the heart. Infected pets can have a very hard time breathing and exercising - they lose a lot of weight and can even die. Heartworm disease can be prevented through regular medication from your veterinarian or local pet retail store and through controlling mosquitoes.

Heartworm disease in dogs:

  • Higher infection rates than cats
  • Affects the heart and lungs
  • Can be fatal and is dependent on the worm burden
  • Relatively simple to diagnose
  • Treatment has low risks of complications - prevention is recommended in heartworm areas
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SIGNS

Common signs of heartworm disease:

  • Coughing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Weight loss
  • Fainting
  • Nosebleeds

DIAGNOSIS

Diagnosis of heartworm disease requires a blood test that can be done at your local veterinary clinic. If positive, your veterinarian may run further bloodwork, perform x-rays or an ultrasound to determine the severity of the disease.

Heartworm testing

As there are very few clinical signs of early heartworm disease, regular heartworm testing is recommended.

  • Puppies <7 months of age should be started on heartworm prevention and can do so without a heartworm test. Occasionally your pet will be required to undergo a heartworm test 6 and 12 months after starting to ensure your pet is heartworm-free
  • Any adult dog or one that has missed more than one dose may also require a heartworm test 6 and 12 months after starting to ensure it is heartworm-free.

MANAGEMENT

If your dog tests positive it will require further testing to confirm the infection.

Treatment may include:

  • Restricted exercise
  • Ensuring the pet is in good health before commencing treatment
  • Treatment involving multiple injections of an arsenic compound to help kill the worms. In extreme cases, surgical removal of the worms is warranted.
  • Commencement of heartworm prevention
  • Further testing approximately 6 months after treatment

TIPS

Tips to help prevent heartworms:

  • Start your pet on heartworm preventatives from as early as 8 weeks of age
  • Continuous, year-round prevention
  • Mosquito control