Ask Dr. Suze

Have you heard of a pesky parasite known as the heartworm? Our resident vet expert Dr. Susanna is here to help!

Author: Dr. Susanna – Founding Director & Veterinary Surgeon of Dr. Suze – My Visiting Vet
Dr Susanna graduated from the University of Bristol in the UK and has over a decade of international veterinary experience including clinical treatment of creatures great and small, veterinary pharmaceutical technical advisory and specialist animal diabetic practice. She loves her job and is passionate about providing the best veterinary solutions with a focus on preventative medicine. Dr. Susanna is a member of the Australian Veterinary Association and currently completing the International Certificate at the Australian College of Veterinary Acupuncture. Susanna started Dr. Suze – My Visiting Vet to provide a more personalised service for pets and their owners, after experiencing how much more comfortable her late Border Collie “Ben” felt receiving care at home. Find out more about Dr. Suze – My Visiting Vet here.

What is heartworm?

Canine heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) is a parasitic worm considered endemic in Australia. It can also be found in temperate, tropical and subtropical areas of North, Central and South America and in parts of southern Europe. It causes canine heartworm disease, a serious and potentially fatal condition affecting the heart and lungs.

How can my dog get heartworm?

Heartworm is spread from dog to dog via a mosquito vector, meaning that the transmission occurs if a mosquito ingests blood from a heartworm infected dog and then goes on to bite your dog. The ingested blood from the heartworm affected dog contains heartworm microfilariae, the first stage of the heartworm lifecycle. The microfilariae continue their development into the infective larval stage once inside the mosquito. This infective larval stage is then transmitted to the new dog host via the mosquito bite. Once inside the new host the larvae eventually migrate to the large blood vessels near the heart, the pulmonary arteries, where they mature into adults.

Can my cat get heartworm?

Cats are not the preferred host of the heartworm and most worms are unlikely to reach adulthood. Some infections can resolve on their own where as in others, the immature worms have the potential to cause problems.

Can you treat heartworm?

Medical treatment is available however it is not without risks and may involve periods of cage rest and restricted exercise. There is no approved drug treatment for cats. It should be noted that the prevalence of heartworm in Australia is relatively low and clinical cases are rare but given the serious nature of this parasite, prevention is always better than cure.

There are a number of ways you can protect your pets against the risk of heartworm infection. For dogs there are monthly topical and oral treatments. There is also a yearly injection available for those who find monthly treatments difficult to remember!

For cats there are monthly topical and oral preparations available. Speak to your local veterinarian to see what treatments will work best for you and your pet.

Did you know…

The lifespan of the adult canine heartworm can range between 5–10 years!

Thank you Dr. Suze! Have questions about your best friend? Don’t be shy – Email us your questions to have them answered.

Please note the information in this article is of a general nature and is not intended to be a substitute for professional healthcare advice. If you have specific concerns about your pet, you should always seek advice directly from your veterinary healthcare practitioner.