It is estimated that pet owners spent more than $36 billion dollars on their pets in 2006. Despite all the medical care, toys, special diets, and other accessories, far too many dogs still fall victim to a disease that can easily be prevented. The calamity of canine heartworm disease continues to prove deadly to dogs across the United States. What might be worse is that the warming of our planet may actually be contributing to the spread of this disease.
Canine heartworms are spread by any one of more than 70 species of mosquitoes. As most people are aware, mosquitoes require warmth and humidity to survive and reproduce. Diseases that are considered to be “tropical” are often associated with mosquitoes. Recently though, these tropical diseases are showing up in less than tropical areas. According to World Health Organization, the tropical disease malaria has been found in the Columbian Andes, more than 7,000 feet above sea level.
And human diseases are not the only ones found in uncommon areas. In a recent survey of more than 11,000 veterinary clinics across the United States, it was estimated that more than 250,000 dogs were diagnosed with canine heartworm disease and many believe that at least that number go undiagnosed.
Although the southeastern states have a much higher prevalence of this terrible disease, no state escaped unaffected. Heartworms were found in every one of the 50 United States – including Alaska. Florida, Texas and Louisiana combined to account for almost 75,000 of the cases found. Compared to previous surveys, it appears that the incidence of canine heartworm disease has not diminished – and that has scientists and veterinarians frustrated.
The severe hurricane season of 2005, which some scientists have also blamed on the global warming trends, sent many dogs from the heartworm heavy southern states across the US into areas not normally associated with significant heartworm populations.
Further sections of the same survey showed that the majority of veterinarians surveyed recommend year round heartworm preventive for their patients and also recommended annual testing. With these types of recommendations, why is it that we continue to see so many cases of this potentially deadly disease?
The answer to this question is actually found in many parts. First dogs are not the only animals to be affected by heartworms. This disease has been found in coyotes, wild dogs, foxes, and even cats. Second, the reported quarter million dogs in the study represent only dogs who received veterinary care. Many dogs, both owned and stray, never receive the preventive care needed to stop the disease. Experts from the American Heartworm Society (www.heartwormsociety.org) have also stated that the travel habits of people and where they live has helped spread the disease. As owners move from the wetter Midwest and Southeast to the drier Southwest, whole regions have been re-landscaped to allow the green grasses enjoyed by most people. This has allowed for the propagation of mosquito populations in areas where they are not normally found.
But most concerning is information found in a compliance study done by the American Animal Hospital Association. In this study, it was found that less than 50% of pet owners comply with their veterinarian’s recommendations for giving the monthly heartworm products that can prevent the disease. This has become such an issue that many of the veterinary pharmaceutical companies who produce the heartworm preventive medications now offer email reminders for clients.
At present time, there are several heartworm preventives on the market, including both oral formulations and topical preparations. Although all products are safe and effective in preventing heartworms, the president of the American Heartworm Society urges pet owners to not switch products without first discussing the change with their veterinarian. Further information about the importance of year round prevention can be found on the Companion Animal Parasite Council’s website, www.petsandparasites.com.
An annual blood test of your dog will help to determine whether or not he or she might have heartworms. Even if your pet is on a preventive year round, the yearly test offers confidence that the preventive works and that your pet has not decided to bury the pill in your backyard. Additionally, this visit to your veterinarian can help you provide the highest level of care for your pet and is a great time for a wellness check and a medical or behavioral consultation.
Whether you live in Texas or Idaho, heartworm disease is a concern for all pet owners. Be sure to see your family veterinarian for the annual test and preventive medication. Visit www.MyVNN.com to learn more about how this deadly disease can affect your pets.