Puppy checklist for owners

Dr Jeannet Kessels is a veterinarian and Chair of Vets for Climate Action

4 Min Read
Keep your puppy safe from heartworm with simple prevention strategies for a long and healthy life

I HOPE you have had a wonderful Christmas with the pets you love.

Last month I began my checklist for puppy owners to keep their furry friends in best of health with helpful information about the ‘Half Hour Health Check’ and ‘Vaccinations’. I continue that checklist here with two more important things every owner should know.

Microchip identification

All new puppies should by law come with a microchip at sale. This is a personal identification which will need to be transferred into your name. If your dog (or cat) escapes and is lost, members of the public will often bring him or her into our vets. We have a simple hand-held scanner to run between the shoulder blades, where the microchip has been placed, to access your pet’s data. We can then give the relieved owner a call. We love to see a happy reunion!

Heartworm prevention

Heartworm? Yes, that’s right, a long, spaghetti-like worm that bunches up in the heart and vena cava with its many friends.

You can imagine how hard it would be for the heart to function with worms wrapped around the valve area and disrupting the blood flow. The worms slow the flow of blood, which makes them more prone to clots, as well.

In earlier years, when heartworm disease was extremely common, vets would take a drop of blood and take a look under the microscope. We would find tiny little ‘wrigglers’ or microfilaria there. Bingo! That dog has heartworm! Then we would need to treat them with some pretty strong drugs before they went onto prevention. In fact, the treatment was quite toxic with an arsenic base.

These days treatment is less complex, but still not easy. To diagnose heartworm we can do an in-house SNAP test, which takes about 15 minutes.

Heartworm is spread by mosquitoes and that’s why it’s hard to prevent without regular medication. With the weather warming through climate change we are seeing the spread of these ‘vector-borne’ diseases further south. The range of this disease is increasing but fortunately the incidence has reduced because of easier prevention.

Because the best thing, as always, is prevention!

When I first started practice in 1987 we all gave our dogs a daily heartworm preventative called Dimmitrol. It was bitter in taste and the dog would often secretly spit it out. These challenges are now resolved through, firstly, a monthly tablet, but now we have an annual injection to prevent heartworm. Hip hip hooray! That’s easy!

Make sure your puppy receives heartworm prevention from your vet and that your adult dog, if not already on prevention, has a heartworm test. If the test is negative the dog should be given an annual heartworm prevention shot.

Next week I will add to this checklist with more ways to help keep puppies healthy.

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