There was a time when Heartworm Disease was relatively confined to the warm, humid states of the Southeast. Pet owners up North, and out West were unconcerned because the winter freeze and dry heat kept the mosquito populations to a minimum. However, that is no longer reality in the United States. Thanks in part to climate change, and in part to our ease of travel, Heartworm is now diagnosed in all 50 states! 2018 was the 4th year in a row where CAPC (Companion Animal Parasite Council) forecasted an above average prevalence across the board. An alarming report issued in January, 2019, identified the cities of San Diego, CA and Newark, NJ as 4th and 8th among the Top 10 US Cities experiencing the highest increase in new positive heartworm tests.
To understand the significance of what’s happening, it’s important to know exactly what Heartworm Disease is, and how it infects our dogs and, to a lesser degree, our cats. Heartworm positive cats still tend to be a regional problem, most prevalent in warm, humid climates.
Heartworm Disease originates from larvae implanted in our pet by an infected mosquito. Once inside, the worm grows to a mature foot long worm that ultimately takes up residency in the pulmonary artery and/or heart, damaging the cardiovascular system of the infected animal, and causing a variety of symptoms from cough, shortness of breath, acutely impaired mobility, abnormalities of the heart and lung, etc. In some cases, damage inflicted can persist long after treatment to remove the worms has been completed, greatly reducing quality of life. Left untreated, heartworm is most often fatal.
According to the American Heartworm Association, more than 250,000 dogs, and approximately 4,000 cats test positive each year for Heartworm. The tragedy of these statistics is that 100% of diagnosed cases are preventable!
Why are we failing to halt transmission of this disease when we’re owners who love our pets and want to do everything we can to keep them healthy and safe? We’re failing, because despite the existence of effective heartworm prevention medications, our compliance in administering these preventatives is spotty at best.
Since CAPC has confirmed transmission 12 months of the year, making the heartworm “season,” year round, prevention must be administered every month and a heartworm test must be administered annually. Veterinarians know the recommended standards for prevention, and work to help their clients understand that failure to comply places their beloved pet at risk for a potentially fatal disease. Yet, year after year statistics reveal that their efforts to educate are falling short. It appears the greatest impediment to prevention is a lack of understanding of the significance of the disease, and old assumptions that it isn’t something we need to worry about in the Northeast.
Advances in prevention have resulted in the development of drugs that come in a variety of forms, and that are proven to be remarkably safe. Owners can choose products that can be administered at home each month orally as flavored chewables, or applied topically. An injectable, administered by a veterinarian, is given once every 6 months. The injectable reduces owner stress by eliminating monthly compliance concerns.
Remember, Heartworm Disease is 100% preventable! Working with your veterinarian, you can select the method of prevention most suited to your pet and your lifestyle, and ensure your beloved pet does not become a Heartworm Disease statistic. The time to start prevention is today! Call your veterinarian to schedule a Heartworm Test and discuss your options. The risk of infection is substantial no matter what the season or temperature. There is no time of year that is safe from the threat of Heartworm Disease!