Heartworm Prevention: What Pet Owners Need to Know
Both Klausner and Graham stressed the message is protect the pet 12 months a year, regardless of geography. Heartworm used to be a disease of dogs in the Southeast, Klausner said, but it's gone all over the country now, and pet owners need to be vigilant.
"We also know," Graham said, "even in cities where we don't expect mosquitoes, there can be warm springs" and other sources of heat where mosquitoes thrive even in winter. He cited a recent study that shows "the most important factor is patients receive the drugs on the same day every month." This doesn't mean pet owners should over-react if they forget to give the pill for a couple of days.
"We have a day or two to play with," he said. "You shouldn't be terrorized" if you miss the treatment. But too many people think they are pilling their dog once a month when, for example, they give a pill on July 5 and the next one on Aug. 28.
"That won't do," he said.
The society has also produced a Public Service Announcement, with football player LaDainian Tomlinson, to remind pet owners that the prevention is a lot easier than the cure. PSA, which features Kuddles, is on the American Heartworm Society's website at heartwormsociety.org. Smith agreed to let the society film Kuddles during her treatment so people will realize the risk.
"I'm sure she's going to help many other dogs get on the side of prevention and live a long life," she said.
The rest of the site offers plenty of good information about heartworm, Graham said.
The society was formed in 1974, with the mission to lead veterinarians and pet owners in their understanding about the disease, Graham said. There is still work to be done, he said, as new studies are being published on the effectiveness of various preventions.
In mid-September, the AHS will update its guidelines for heartworm management in dogs and cats. Cats, in fact, do contract heartworm, although few indoor felines are going on preventative medicines, Graham said. That may be about to change.
"We had a paradigm that cats, especially indoor cats, don't need to be on preventative medicine." But the paradigm was wrong, he said. It was based on a comparison of shelter animals, that showed about 70 percent of stray dogs tested positive for heartworm while only 7 percent of stray cats showed signs of the disease.
"So we played the odds," he said that the indoor cats likely were not going to be exposed. But now, indoor cats are coming down with heartworm. "In my own practice, of the last six cats that tested positive, three were indoor cats," he said.
"We have a lot to learn about how the drugs actually work to kill adult larvae," he said. "We have a lot to learn about the interaction of preventative medicine and susceptibility of the population."
Pictured: New York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson with Kuddles, who has finished her heartworm treatment and is now heartworm-free. Tomlinson and Kuddles are currently appearing in a PSA for the American Heartworm Society. (Photo Courtesy of Coyne PR)
Have your pets ever had heartworm? How do you prevent against the disease? Tell us below!
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