Townsville City Council’s Animal Care and Adoption Centre is seeing an alarming rise in heartworm cases and is urging residents to take preventative measures against the potentially deadly disease.

The spaghetti-like worms can grow up to 30cm in length and live in the heart and lungs of infected dogs, casing causing a cough and loss of fitness in mild cases or heart failure and death in serious cases.

Community Health, Safety and Environmental Sustainability Committee chairperson Maurie Soars said up to 30 per cent of unprotected dogs in North Queensland had heartworm.

“Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes which feed on the blood of infected dogs, sucking up baby heartworms in the process, and then transferring those baby worms to other dogs. Heartworms cannot be detected by routine tests for at least six months after infection, by which time damage has already begun,” Cr Soars said. “Heartworm infections can be treated by vets, but the process can take many months during which dogs receive multiple courses of potentially toxic drugs and have to be heavily restricted in how much exercise they can undertake. Costs can reach thousands of dollars and comes with the potential for side-effects to the treatment, including death in rare cases. The good news is that prevention is easy. Oral, topical and injectable options are readily available, with all being highly effective if administered as directed, so talk to your veterinarian as soon as possible  to discuss the appropriate option for your dog.”

Cr Soars said ACAC staff were coming across impounded dogs with heartworm regularly.

“Impounded dogs come to us from the community, and what we’re seeing is an alarming lack of heartworm prevention in the animals that end up in our care,” he said. “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 if pet owners take the necessary steps for heartworm prevention for their dogs. 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.”


**Image: Jonathan Stitger and Ally the dog at the Animal Care and Adoption Centre.