How to keep heartworms away from your furry friend

Dr Anne Chester reminded pet owners of the importance of preventing heartworm disease at an RSPCA community outreach event in Deception Bay. Pictures: Contributed

As mosquito populations increase during the warmer months across the South Burnett, it is more important than ever to protect our furry friends from heartworms.

Heartworm is a parasitic worm that can infect your pet through just one mosquito bite, as they inject larvae into your pet’s bloodstream.

Signs of heartworm may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss.

As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen.

Dogs with a large number of heartworms can develop sudden blockages of blood flow within the heart leading to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse.

This is called caval syndrome and is marked by a sudden onset of laboured breathing, pale gums, and dark bloody or coffee-coloured urine.

Without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm blockage, few dogs survive.

RSPCA Queensland can treat anywhere from 30 cases of dogs with heartworm every six months.

In Queensland, recent reports have shown a high prevalence of heartworm in shelter dogs – 5.8 per cent in southern Queensland, 8.7 per cent in Central QLD and 31.8 per cent in the state’s north.

The best form of treatment for your four-legged friends is prevention. Diagnosing heartworm can be challenging, especially in cats.

There are many heartworm preventatives that are available for both dogs and cats, like Comfortis Plus. Prevention should begin at six to eight weeks of age.

Some forms come in a chewable tablet or as a spot-on application for your pet. Some tablets even cover other parasites such as intestinal worms and fleas, so you can fully protect your pet every month.

You can also ask your vet about the best preventative method for your pet and ask about yearly heartworm preventative injections for dogs.

Heartworm is much harder to treat than other worms, with RSPCA Queensland Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Anne Chester advising that once your pet has contracted heartworm, it can take months to rectify, and treatment can be expensive.

“I cannot stress enough that heartworm is a serious disease, most common in dogs. But cats can contract the parasite too,” Dr Chester said.

Help your pet live a long and happy life and protect their heart by using heartworm preventatives.

Other tips to help prevent your pet getting heartworm:

• Keep your cat indoors.

• Don’t let stagnant water sit around your property, it’s a breeding zone for mosquitoes. Empty and replace water frequently – bird baths, water troughs and any containers.