Heartworm disease killing too many Queensland greyhounds

The Queensland Racing Integrity Commission has warned all greyhound owners and trainers that heartworm disease is running rife throughout the racing dog population.

QRIC Director of Veterinary Services and Animal Welfare Dr Martin Lenz said left untreated heartworm infestation would be affecting the quality of life and the racing performance of greyhounds.

“It amounts to irresponsible dog ownership not to manage heartworm, as it can easily be prevented but if infested it was difficult to treat,” he said.

“We have had to euthanase several greyhounds retired to GAP recently because of heartworm infestation and this is just so unnecessary if the correct prevention had been in place their hearts would not have been impacted.”  

Dr Lenz said the treatment could be dangerous and unpleasant for dogs and even if the worms were eliminated the dogs could be left with permanent damage.

“Therefore, prevention is definitely better than cure,” he said.

Heartworm is a parasitic nematode (Dirofilaria immitis) that is transmitted to dogs by both saltmarsh and freshwater mosquitoes. The recent increase in the mosquito population particularly in north Queensland is increasing the risk of heartworm infestation in dogs.

Heartworm larvae migrate in the blood vessels of dogs to mature in the pulmonary arteries and the heart. Adult heartworms can reach 30cm in length and live for up to eight years.

Dr Lenz said symptoms usually begin with a cough, and when the worms mature they crowd in the dog’s heart.

“Circulation and respiration are impacted, and as a result, dogs will tire more quickly and have difficulty exercising and eventually most dogs will die if the worms are not treated,” he said.

“The prevention of heartworm in dogs is very simple and inexpensive, and every greyhound in Queensland should be on a preventative program beginning when they are puppies.

“There are several options for heartworm prevention, including a daily or monthly medication. There is also an annual injectable preventative medication.

“However, dogs must be tested for pre-existing heartworm infestation before prevention can begin.”

Greyhound owners should discuss options for appropriate heartworm preventatives with their veterinarians.


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