Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) is a parasite that causes serious, potentially fatal disease in dogs. Unlike intestinal worms, heartworms live in the heart and blood vessels of affected dogs.
How is heartworm transmitted to dogs?
Heartworm is not spread directly from dog to dog, but via mosquitoes. It may take a number of years for dogs to show signs of infestation.
How does heartworm affect my dog and what are the signs?
Adult worms cause disease by clogging the heart and major blood vessels. This can lead to a reduction in blood supply to vital organs and subsequent organ dysfunction.
Young worms (microfilariae) tend to block the smaller blood vessels and may cause vascular disease.
- a soft, dry, chronic cough
- swelling of the abdomen
- shortness of breath and reluctance to exercise
- lethargy or listlessness
- weight loss
- just 'not doing well'.
Unfortunately some dogs do not show any signs. In these animals the only sign may be sudden death.
Diagnosis of heartworm in dogs
In the majority of cases, heartworm can be diagnosed by a simple blood test performed by your veterinarian. Depending on the severity of signs, other tests include:
- a complete blood count and biochemistry to assess organ function
- chest X-rays (radiographs) to assess the impact of heartworm on the heart and lungs
- chest ultrasound.
These tests are important in determining the severity of heartworm disease and for planning treatment.
Sydney Animal Hospitals' approach to prevention of dog heartworm
Because heartworm disease is a life-threatening condition and can be challenging to treat, prevention is vital for the wellbeing of your dog. As heartworm has a complex life cycle and is spread by mosquitoes that are ubiquitous in the environment, year-round prevention is essential.
At Sydney Animal Hospitals, we recommend an annual injection to ensure your dog is protected against heartworm.
Use of an annual heartworm injection means that:
- You never have to worry about missing a monthly treatment and thus risk exposure to heartworm.
- Your dog only requires a simple, easy treatment once a year.
- You don’t have to worry about administering tablets or spot-on treatments.
Contact us to discuss a tailored heartworm prevention program for your dog.