LOCAL pet owners have been warned that prevention is better than a cure when it comes to a potentially deadly parasite that has thrived after recent flooding across the state.
Australian Veterinary Association president Barry Smyth has warned heartworm could become more commonplace in Queanbeyan following recent heavy rains.
Flood affected areas provide the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, which in turn pass the heartworm infections from animal to animal.
‘‘Incidence of the disease increases when mosquitoes are able to multiply,’’ Dr Smyth said.
‘‘As water levels recede in the aftermath of the floods, areas will remain damp for some time, creating the perfect breeding ground for mosquito-borne diseases, including heartworm.’’
Dr Hamish Cameron from Queanbeyan West Veterinary Hospital said nearly all of the cases of heartworm he has seen in his 10 years in Queanbeyan have come from dogs that are new to the area, usually from the Riverina or coast.
However his surgery recently saw a Jerrabomberra cat with the disease.
‘‘While it is primarily a dog disease, cats can get it,’’ he said.
‘‘The thing about that case is it means it must have caught it locally so there must have been a dog at some point in this area that has had heartworm.
‘‘Once heartworm gets into an area it becomes endemic. It’s a mosquito-borne disease so even if your dog is home alone in the back yard there is a theoretical risk that it can catch it through mosquito bites and there certainly are plenty of mosquitoes around Queanbeyan this year.’’
Symptoms of heartworm in dogs include a lower exercise tolerance, especially in younger dogs, as well as coughing and loss of appetite. Dr Cameron said prevention through monthly or yearly preventative treatments was much easier than removing an adult worm.
‘‘It’s a worm that lives in the main blood vessel out of the heart and into the lungs and it causes heart and lung failure,’’ he said.
‘‘The problem with treatment is the drugs are very strong and it’s a short run thing whether you kill the worm or the dog.
‘‘The main thing for pet owners is they should consider prevention.
‘‘Prevention is very much better than getting in that situation.’’
The effect that recent flooding in Queanbeyan will have on the number of local dogs infected with heartworm is still difficult to tell. The parasite can grow for up to 18 months before signs of the infections are noticed.
‘‘Up until this point the disease has had a low prevalence in Queanbeyan but over the past two years there have been ideal circumstance for the parasite. And what we diagnose is always behind what is actually happening,’’ Dr Cameron said.