Animals

Heartworm and your pets

in Animals & Pets

Heartworm is a disease of dogs and cats, it rarely causes illness in cats but can be a significant problem in canines.
Is it endemic in Gibraltar? 

Cases of heartworm are few and far between, therefore it is not a disease that isn’t yet endemic in our local pet population but things might be changing!!

I have had my first case of heartworm in a local dog that has only left the territory once to be kenneled in Spain about 3 years ago.

This is a worrying turn of events so the advice has to change.

Heartworm, Dirofilariaimmitis, is a parasite where the adults live in the right ventricle and pulmonary arteries of the heart. The female worm once fertilised releases its offspring, tiny juvenile worms, microfilariae into the blood stream. These microfilariae circulate around the body where they reach peripheral capillaries under the skin. They can circulate in the blood for up to 2 years.

Mosquitoes that may happen to feed on the animal will take on this parasite along with the blood that it imbibes. Once in the mosquito the parasite goes through a development phase before migrating to the mosquito’s salivary glands. This development can only occur when the ambient temperature is over 14 degrees centigrade. Once the mosquito is carrying the microfilariae it will infect any further dog or cat that it feeds on. When an animal is infected the microfilariae migrate to the muscles where they go through another phase of their development before finally entering the circulatory system to reach their final destination, the pulmonary artery and right ventricles. The final development stage into an adult occurs here with females measuring up to 30 cm in length. The whole process of infection to fertile adults in the heart, the pre-patent period, is between six and seven months.

Diagnosis of this disease is a fairly simple affair; historically it could only be diagnosed by taking a blood sample from a peripheral blood vessel and then examining the sample microscopically. This method unfortunately can lead to a lot of false negatives for many reasons so we do not rely on this method now. Blood samples are now tested directly for parasite antigen and/or antibody and these tests are extremely reliable.

Heartworm can be a fatal disease with dogs presenting with clinical signs of congestive heart failure. However the symptoms might be varied, weight loss, anaemia, weakness, anorexia, ascites(fluid in the abdomen).

In cats symptoms might be more subtle, asthma type symptoms, weight loss, but often the only symptom is sudden death/ collapse. 

With advances in medicine there are various alternatives now to treat this illness with a complete resolution of the disease. As long as the illness is diagnosed early enough. However treatment is a longwinded process taking several months and can prove to be quite expensive. In rare cases there can be an anaphylactic reaction when treated so prevention is by far the preferred option.

Prevention can take one of three routes:

  • An annual vaccination against heartworm. Before the vaccine available often caused allergic reaction but the new products on the market are a lot safer
  • Ectoparasite treatment to prevent the infected mosquito biting your pet. These work but there one has to be careful. You must use effective collars and spot-on treatments but the owner must remember to keep applying the products and be aware that is the animal is washed or bathes regularly there will be a reduction in protection
  • There are monthly tablets that can be administered that kill any microfilaria if infected by a mosquito 

Personally where there is high risk to your pet I would advise using two of the options listed above, best to ‘be sure to be sure’.

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A Vets Insight

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Spring has sprung

With the onset of spring there are certain medical conditions and pests that come to the fore as the climate becomes warmer. 

The Processionary Caterpillar, is an insect that can  cause hives in people and even death for pets. The caterpillars are covered in very fine sting hairs that can cause nasty reactions and in pets that might try and eat them can cause nasty mouth lesions with tongue necrosis being the most common symptom. 

The Processionary  caterpillar has an annual cycle, so it will be seen every year. The cycle begins in summer, where eggs are laid. With the arrival of the cold, they build the nests in the pine forests. When the temperature begins to rise, it accelerates development until they become caterpillars that descend down the trunk to the earth in procession, one after another and forming long lines until they bury themselves and form a chrysalis.

N.B . they are insects, have 6 legs, might have prolegs or little hocks which may appear to be legs. 

In addition, allergies are more frequent in spring (like humans, atopic allergies are increased by the presence of allergens in the environment such as pollen). In Gibraltar this combined with the perpetual cloud of builder’s pollution that has engulfed Gib for years leads to a massive increase in allergies in our pets. The most common symptoms are itching in dogs and asthma in cats.

 Leishmaniasis is another warm weather illness that is spread by the bite of the Sand-fly and is more frequent during the spring and summer months. It is caused by a protozoa and once your dog has contracted this illness it is for life. It can be controlled and managed but rarely is it eliminated.  Among the symptoms we find are weight loss, hair loss, long nails, nose bleeds and lethargy. 

During the warmer months there are more insects that can cause result in a nasty bite like bees and wasps. Not much you can do to prevent this, they are always accidents where a pet is at the wrong place at the wrong time. If reaction is severe then seek veterinary assistance.

In addition, there are also more fleas and ticks that could affect the health of our pet, as they feed on blood they can cause itchiness and infections and can also spread disease. Proper ecto-parasite protection is essential, consult your veterinary surgeon for what works best for your pet. Prevention is always better than cure.

 Grass seeds will also be a problem over the next few months, the aerodynamics of the seed make them easy for them to imbed in your pet’s coat and then migrate into the skin causing ulcers, abscesses and infection. 

On a more positive note the weather is better, time to get out walk your companion animals, get some exercise, enjoy the sun and build up those Vitamin D levels.

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A Vets Insight

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Brexit and implications for your pet

Sadly Brexit has been forced upon us by a vote 2000 miles away and the ramifications to our community and way of life will change forever. This will also affect our pets and their movement across the border into Spain and Europe. I will give an overview of the changes and what everyone has to do for easy travel with their dogs and cats.

The one piece of luck that we have had is that Gibraltar by error was listed as a Group 1 in the group of countries outside of the EU that could travel with a Pet Passport.  UK government will have to apply, if they ever get off their high horse, to be included in the Pet Passport travel scheme. 

The old blue Gibraltar pet passport will no longer be valid for movement across the border. This has to be changed for the new design that does not carry the EU ensign. 

Within this document several parts have to be filled in correctly:


Name and address of proprietor has to be filled in correctly. There is space in the passport to put in two names just in case different people will be travelling with the pet.


The specific description of the pet has to be filled in correctly, with age, breed , colour and name . 


Pet has to microchipped. The date of microchipping has to be the same day or before the date of the rabies vaccination .


A valid rabies vaccination. If the rabies vaccine has expired the animal cannot travel across the border. Revaccination must be done before the expiry date, if this is not the case there will be a period of 3 weeks before the animal can move across the border. 


The Pet Passport must be filled in correctly by the issuing veterinary surgeon. Any errors could result in your pet not being allowed entry into the EU. 

There are also other regulations when driving your pets across the border. Your pet cannot be loose on the back seat of a car. It must be restrained, either with a lead that is fixed to an anchor in the car, placed in a carrier cage or if in the boot there has to be a divider so that the dog can’t jump into the car. These are common sense regulations, the local laws are too lax.  To have a dog or cat loose in a car where in could interfere with the driver’s ability could lead to a serious accident.  

In some cases you could be asked for the dog to wear a muzzle. My advice is that if you have a large breed of dog it isn’t a bad idea to have a muzzle handy, just in case.

The real implications of Brexit will be hitting home soon and it could be a long hard ride. Hopefully the Gibraltar  Pet Passport will be one of the easier obstacles we will have to surmount . 

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A Vets Insight

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Barbary Macaques

To steer away from pet companions this month I would like to write an article on the Gibraltar Barbary Macaque, an animal that is engrained in our history and our folk tales. 

When I was a child we were told that the macaques travelled to Gibraltar via a tunnel that originated at St Michael’s Cave and traversed the Straits of Gibraltar !!!! The more likely explanation is that they were imported  from Morocco , probably by different entities over the centuries , the Moors and the British Army are the most likely. 

There are in the region of 200 macaques spread across the Upper Rock Nature Reserve , these are divided into different packs . Previous genetic work done on the macaques has shown that the macaques originated from two regions in Africa . One line comes from the Rif Mountains in Morocco and the other comes from Algeria.  The females from these two blood lines are distinctly different , the Moroccan blood line adult females are larger animals , they weigh approximately three to four kilos more than their Algerian sisters !!! It is as a result of there being two different genetics pools that the Barbary macaque has been so successful in Gibraltar , if there had been only one blood line there would have been problems genetically as a result of inbreeding and very little genetic divergence.  

Packs are divided down family lines, all the group structure is held together by the females in the pack . As a general rule mothers, daughters , sisters etc form the nucleus of the pack and stay together , it is the males that move away from the pack when they reach puberty and it is this that leads to genetic diversification as they move from one pack to another .      

Females can breed from as early as 3/4 years of age and they produce one offspring every year( rarely twins are born). Females tend to remain fertile until well into their 20’s. We have a population of approximately 200 macaques , on average 100 are female , with approximately 70 being breeding females.  

If we had 70 births every year it wouldn’t take too long before we were overran by macaques and one of the luxury blocks being built would have to be used to provide housing. 

So how are numbers controlled? Vasectomising males is a complete waste of time. Females in season mate with multiple males, a way to maintain dominance and social cohesion.  So the only way to control population is by contracepting the females.  There are two main ways to carry this out, either using contraceptive implants that last around 3 years or by laparoscopically sterilising the females. The latter procedure involves tying off the fallopian tubes, in this way the females continue to menstruate and mate normally without getting pregnant. This is crucial as in this way there is less social interference in the group , if the females had their ovaries removed this would stop the normal breeding cycle and have an impact on the pack’s social structure.  Thanks to investment by this Government under the direction of Prof John Cortes we now carry out laparoscopic sterilisation. A few years ago we used to have around 50 births a year, last year we had 15 births. 

This is just a small insight into what goes on with our macaques , having wild free ranging macaques is a treasure and one we must protect, they are not a nuisance as some people think they are , they are a valuable part of our heritage and one that must be cared for, both as sentient animals and what they represent culturally . 

For more information please phone
Gibraltar Vetinary Clinic on 200 77334

Adopt don’t Shop

in Animals & Pets

Please consider adopting one of these babies. They have been waiting a long time for a forever home.

Adopt don’t Shop

in Animals & Pets

Please consider adopting one of these babies. They have been waiting a long time for a forever home.

Adopt don’t Shop

in Animals & Pets

Please consider adopting one of these babies. They have been waiting a long time for a forever home.

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