Heartworm in Pets – Not Such a Loving Relationship After All!

Heartworm in Pets

In the first of our 12-part preventive health educational series, we take a look at Heartworm. What is it? How do we detect it? And why prevention is better than cure.

What Is Heartworm?

As interpreted from its name, heartworm is a disease in which literally parasite worms breed in our pets’ hearts.

Initially, it is transmitted through infected mosquitos that carry larvae into our pets’ bodies. These larvae develop inside, forming adult worms that accumulates in the heart & lungs. These worms can cause heart disease and lung problems that may not be apparent immediately.

Heartworm Life Cycle: Vetwest Animal Hospitals

In early stages of infection, no clinical symptoms would usually show but as the disease progresses, you may notice symptoms of heart & lung problems – coughing, lethargy and breathing difficulties in your pets. The disease may cause irreversible changes to the structure of the heart and lungs of your pets. In some cases, pets may die suddenly without showing prior clinical signs (sudden death).

As for the treatment of heartworm, there are definitely risks and complications involved. Often, heartworm treatment is expensive and takes a long time (~ 6 months), which is why we strongly recommend you to take preventive measures for your pets from young! It is a disease that is difficult to treat, but easy to prevent!

The Heartworm test – SNAP 4Dx Plus test

The heartworm test is a simple SNAP test, that detects heartworm antigen (which is the foreign organism) in your pet’s blood stream.

A small amount of blood (0.5ml) will need to be collected from your pet’s leg, and the test typically takes about 10 minutes to run.

We also take a drop of blood and examine it under a microscope to look for the microfilariae (baby heartworm larvae) that may be present.

Apart from heartworm, the test kit available in Singapore also screens for other tick-bourne diseases, so it is known as a 4 in 1 test kit.

Idexx Heartworm Test

SNAP 4Dx device: VCA

If the heartworm parasite and/or tick-bourne diseases are present in your pet, it shows up accordingly on the test device, at the corresponding position.

SNAP 4Dx Test Results

Test results from SNAP: South Shore Equine Clinic

When should I do the heartworm test?

Heartworm tests should be done yearly to ensure your pets are always heartworm-free! We encourage it to be part of your annual pet care routine, alongside checkups and vaccinations etc.

For dogs: 

Generally, it takes at least 6 months for dogs to be tested positive after being infected.

As such, for puppies under 7 months of age, you can start heartworm prevention without undergoing the heartworm test. However, to ensure they are heartworm-free, they should be tested 6 months after starting the preventative.

For dogs over 7 months of age that haven’t been on any heartworm preventatives, they should be tested before starting it.

If your dog misses one or more doses of heartworm preventative, do contact your vet for further advice, & he/she will determine when a repeat heartworm test needs to be carried out, as infections may not show up until 6-7 months later.

What about cats?

Cats are not the heartworm’s typical host, and most larvae do not survive until adulthood.

In the rare cases when cats do get infected, your cat may still suffer from the effects caused by the adult worms in the heart, such as heart & lung problems.

It is much more difficult to detect heartworm in cats and the treatment for dogs cannot be used in cats, so prevention is still the best way to protect your cat from it.

So, I’m done with the heartworm test, what’s next?

If your pet’s heartworm test is negative, that’s great! You can start your pet on heartworm preventatives immediately and ensure you continue to administer it regularly to keep your pet protected. Your vet may recommend a follow up test in 6 months to ensure your pet is in the all clear.

If your pet’s heartworm test is positive, we would first confirm the positive result with a second test, and if both are truly positive, we will go through what the treatment of heartworm involves to ensure the condition of your pets improves.

What are the preventatives available in Singapore?

In Singapore, we have access to a few heartworm preventatives and they all cover different things so it can be confusing!

Here’s a quick summary of the products available and what they cover:

Name of product (dosage) What it covers
Nexgard Spectra
(monthly chewable tablet)
Heartworm, fleas, ticks, most intestinal worms (except tapeworm)
(monthly chewable tablet)
Heartworm and most intestinal worms (except tapeworm)
Interceptor Spectrum
(monthly chewable tablet)
Heartworm and all intestinal worms
(monthly spot on)
Heartworm, fleas, some intestinal worms, skin and ear mites
(monthly spot on)
Heartworm, fleas, some intestinal worms, skin and ear mites
  • Nexgard Spectra (monthly chewable tablet): Heartworm, fleas, ticks, most intestinal worms (except tapeworm)

  • Heartgard (monthly chewable tablet): Heartworm and most intestinal worms (except tapeworm)

  • Interceptor Spectrum (monthly chewable tablet): Heartworm and all intestinal worms

  • Revolution (monthly spot on): Heartworm, fleas, some intestinal worms, skin and ear mites

  • Advocate (monthly spot on): Heartworm, fleas, some intestinal worms, skin and ear mites

TL;DR – In a nutshell…

  • Heartworm is a parasite that is transmitted through mosquitoes. It is present in Singapore and it has potential to affect all pets.
  • The signs may not always be obvious until it is end-stage, and treatment is long, complicated and expensive. It is much easier to prevent heartworm than treat it.
  • Lifestyle and environment play a part in contributing toward the risk of your pet contracting heartworm so talk to your vet for further advice.
  • The heartworm snap test is a simple diagnostic test to check if your pet has contracted the disease.
  • There are various options for prevention of heartworm and they usually cover other parasites as well, so talk to your vet about which one would be best suited for your pet.

Heartworm Test promotion by Vetpal

Vetpal is a Singapore-based housecall veterinary service treating animals in the comfort of their homes. We are supported by both NUS Enterprise and Enterprise SG.

Vetpal includes FREE heartworm tests in our Annual Care Plans for dogs! These care plans come with 2 housecall visits and are a hassle-free way of ensuring the essential healthcare needs of your cats and dogs are met.

To kickstart Vetpal’s 12-week educational campaign, we have a special promotion for the pet parents out there!

From now until 28 Feb 2020, Vetpal will be offering 20% off the SNAP 4Dx Plus test!

WhatsApp us for more information or to speak to a vet!

Alternatively, make an online appointment here!