Protect your pets. Heartworm prevention is better than cure

Richard Dinnen - Queensland Editor |

Pic: Ally the dog at the Animal Care and Adoption Centre, where staff are seeing a rise in heartworm in impounded dogs

A significant rise of heartworm disease in dogs has been detected in the north of the state, with the local council urging dog owners to take action.

Townsville City Council said there’s been an alarming rise in heartworm cases in dogs coming to its Animal Care and Adoption Centre, and it wants people to help prevent the potentially deadly disease.

Councillor Maurie Soars said up to 30 per cent of unprotected dogs in north Queensland had heartworm.

“We’re seeing an alarming lack of heartworm prevention in the animals that end up in our care.

“Sadly, impounded animals that are heartworm positive are often euthanased, due to the health risks and cost of the extensive, long treatment.

“Heartworm is contagious, and the health of other community members’ pets must also be considered when dogs are adopted into new homes.

“This is an avoidable outcome. A pet is part of the family, so make sure your dog is checked over by a vet and that heartworm prevention is made a priority in your home.”

Heartworm is a parasite, spread by mosquitos. The worms live in the hearts and lungs of infected dogs. Infection can lead to heart failure and death in severe cases.

Councillor Soars said it’s possible to treat heartworm disease, but prevention is a better, more affordable option.

“Heartworm infections can be treated by vets, but the process can take many months, with multiple courses of potentially toxic drugs.

“Costs can reach thousands of dollars and there’s potential for side-effects to the treatment, including death in rare cases.”

Deception Bay and Ipswich, in the south-east, and Mackay, Townsville and  Cairns are areas where cases can occur year-round.

In the past, heartworm was thought only to occur in tropical and subtropical coastal regions, but it has become more prevalent in southern parts of Australia.

More than 30 species of animals can be infected, including cats, foxes, ferrets, sea lions and, in extremely rare cases, humans.

In dogs, symptoms of heartworm include lethargy, loss of energy when exercising, bleeding from the nose, coughing or difficulty breathing, weight loss, sudden collapse, or increased thirst.

 There are several heartworm prevention options. Ask your veterinarian for the latest advice.