Heartworm in Dogs

Heartworm life cycle diagram

Heartworm is a disease transmitted by mosquitoes.  Once infecting a host the worm lives within the blood vessels of the heart.  Unfortunately this means it is not controlled by the usual intestinal wormers given to pets.   Because heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes, dogs who do not come into contact with other dogs can still be at risk of infection. Complete control of heartworm infection is by medication.  It can be given either once monthly (in the form of a tablet, chew or spot-on) or a yearly injection.

Heartworm is transmitted by female mosquitoes.  Transmission occurs at the time of year where the days are consistently above 18 degrees. The mosquito must have fed from an infected dog approximately 2 weeks prior.  This allows the stage 3 larvae to be transmitted in the saliva of the feeding mosquito. In the Bayside areas where we live, the incidence of heartworm infection in untreated dogs is estimated to be only 2-3%.

Does Your Pet Need Heartworm Prevention?

The only way to be 100% sure that your dog will not contract heartworm disease is to have year round protection.  Also if you ever travel north with your dog, then this is the method we strongly recommend.  We recommend this because the incidence of infection increases as you move north (2% in Melbourne city, 25% in Sydney and 50% in Brisbane). Infections can be deadly and it is a difficult and dangerous disease to treat.  It is vitally important to consider your dog’s travel habits when making this decision. However, if your dog stays in the Bayside or Melbourne area, you may want to just use seasonal protection over the warmer Summer months, or regularly test your dog for exposure to heartworms.

In order to avoid over-medicating their pets, many owners choose to just test their dog regularly for evidence of infection. There is a rapid and inexpensive in-house test available that tells us if your pet does have heartworm infection. If we do get an early positive result, we can implement early treatment protocols.

If you choose to not use regular medications for Heartworm prevention, we will advise you to test your pet every year to be sure they are not infected. This is a simple and inexpensive test performed in-house, usually at your dog’s Annual Health Exam.

How To Reduce Your Pet’s Risk

The following are a few recommendations that may help to prevent infections:

  1. Keeping your dog indoors during the mosquito heavy times of the day (early evening mostly)
  2. Ensuring your dog is well and healthy
  3. Providing a good quality diet
  4. Using natural forms of mosquito deterents (citronella oil, lemon eucalyptus oil, lavender and Neem oil)

If you would like help in assessing your dog’s risk of contracting heartworm infection, give us a call.  Alternatively drop into the clinic or book an appointment.  We can ensure your pet is adequately protected, whilst minimising the amount of harmful chemicals being administered to your pet.

Bentons Road Vet combining Natural Health & Modern Medicine