Heartworm in Dogs: Key Information for Dog Owners in the UK
What is Heartworm?
Heartworms are roundworms or nematodes, which spread to dogs via mosquito bites. Mosquitos inject immature worms into the dog’s skin, which then emigrate over time to the blood vessels around the dog’s heart. This is why the disease is called heartworm – because the creatures live in and around the dog’s heart, sometimes for many years. Contrary to popular concerns, it is not possible for heartworms to pass from dog to dog or from dog to person. Heartworm disease only spreads through infected mosquito bites.
The symptoms of heartworm do not become onset immediately after infection, and can take years to develop fully. Initial symptoms include coughing/wheezing, weight loss, and fatigue. The disease can eventually lead to respiratory damage, as well as damage to the lungs and liver.
Heartworm is very easy to prevent through medication. It can however be expensive and difficult to treat, especially in the later stage of the disease.
How does Heartworm Affect Us in the UK?
Heartworm is not a major concern for us in the UK, as we have far less mosquitos than in countries such as the USA and Spain, where heartworm is more widely prevalent. It is however a concern if you are planning to take your pet with you on holiday. The Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), which was introduced at the beginning of the year, has made it far easier to take our pets with us abroad. Veterinarians do not habitually prescribe preventative medication for heartworm in the UK, so it is therefore vital you consider preventative medicine before you travel.
You should visit your vet a month before your trip to discuss and determine whether heartworm is an issue in the country that you are planning to visit. Heartworm is very easy to prevent with the correct medication. You should administer the treatment for at least three weeks before you travel, continue the treatment while you are abroad, and continue to treat for at least a month upon returning to the UK.
If you have recently travelled with your dog to an area where heartworm occurs and you have no taken preventative measures, ask your vet to analyse a sample of your dog’s blood for heartworm. Heartworm is much easier to treat in the early stages before major symptoms occur. In addition, if your pet becomes ill with the symptoms of heartworm after traveling abroad, ensure you tell your vet details of the journey, even if the trip occurred a while ago.