In order to help promote awareness to Heartworm disease, here are some interesting facts:
- It only takes one bite from an infected mosquito to spread heartworm disease.
- Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease in pets in the United States and many other parts of the world. It is caused by foot-long worms (heartworms) that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body.
- Heartworm disease affects dogs, cats and ferrets, but heartworms also live in other mammal species, including wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions and—in rare instances—humans. Because wild species such as foxes and coyotes live in proximity to many urban areas, they are considered important carriers of the disease.
- More than a million pets in the United States have heartworm disease.
- Heartworm disease has been diagnosed in all 50 states.
- Both indoor and outdoor pets are at risk of developing heartworm disease because infected mosquitoes can come inside.
- Dogs can harbor several hundred worms in their body whereas cats typically just have one to three worms and many cats affected by heartworms have no adult worms.
- There is no approved treatment for heartworm disease in cats, but supportive care can help manage complications.
- Once mature, heartworms can live up to 7 years in a dog.
- It takes at least 6 months for a dog to test positive after it has been infected with heartworms. This is why annual testing is recommended for earliest detection of the disease.
- Once tested positive, a dog must be kept in strict confinement and have restricted activity for a period of 5-6 months during and after treatment of heartworm disease to try and decrease potential complications associated with eliminating adult heartworms.
- Prevention is safe, effective, and cost effective.
- You can buy 7 years of heartworm prevention for less than the cost of treating your dog one time for heartworms.
- To date, the national average is one out of every 73 dogs will test positive for heartworm disease.
- One out of 56 dogs tested positive for heartworm disease in Greene County, MO thus far for 2016.
- Deerfield Veterinary Hospital in Springfield Missouri has diagnosed 7 heartworm positive dogs since January 2015, however we have a higher compliance rate of dogs receiving monthly preventative than compared to more rural areas. More rural areas can have as many as one heartworm positive dog diagnosed each week.
- Preventatives work by killing the microfilaria and early larval stages of heartworms that your pet has picked up the previous month. If you stop giving it in the fall or early winter, the parasites might remain and cause infection.
- Adult dogs over 7 months of age and previously not on a preventive need to be tested prior to starting heartworm prevention.
- Annual testing is necessary, even when dogs are on heartworm prevention year-round, to ensure that the prevention program is working. Heartworm medications are highly effective, but dogs can still become infected. If you miss just one dose of a monthly medication-or give it late-it can leave your dog unprotected. Even if you give medication as recommended, your dog may spit out or vomit a heartworm pill-or rub off topical medication. Heartworm preventatives are highly effective, but not 100 percent effective. If you don’t get your dog tested , you won’t know your dog needs treatment.
- There are three different types of preventative available for use to protect your pet: once-a-month chewable, once-a-month topical, or twice-a-year injection.
- There is only one drug approved by the FDA for treatment of heartworm disease called melarsomine and it is administered by injection only by a veterinarian. Additional medications may be prescribed by your veterinarian to help improve the chances of treatment success and reduce the incidence of side effects associated with the death of adult heartworms.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. Remember to “Think 12.” Test for heartworm disease every 12 months and give heartworm preventative 12 months a year. Deerfield Veterinary Hospital offers a variety of preventatives to help protect your pet. Let us help you decide which preventative is best for your pet, lifestyle, and budget.
The information used for this blog was obtained from the American Heartworm Society website, Companion Animal Parasite Council website, and medical records from Deerfield Veterinary Hospital. For more information about heartworm disease, please visit the American Heartworm Society’s website at https://www.heartwormsociety.org/ and the Companion Animal Parasite Council’s website at http://www.capcvet.org/.
It might be the look on the person’s face or maybe the way they are carrying the bag, but staff at a veterinary office can always tell when their clients arrive with a stool sample for testing. Dozens of specimens arrive each day, some in Ziploc baggies, others triple wrapped in aluminum foil and some are tucked neatly in plastic containers. The clients may not realize it, but that smelly sample brought in for testing may help prevent an illness in their pet…or in them!
Why does your veterinarian have such an interest in your pet’s stool?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that 3,000 to 4,000 human serum samples are sent to their labs every year with a presumptive diagnosis of toxocariasis, or, infection with roundworms or hookworms. The illnesses caused by these parasites are not reportable in the United States, so true numbers of human cases are not known. What is known is that 36% of dogs across the country and 52% in the southeastern states carry these zoonotic worms. Many pet owners are unaware that their furry family members are capable of harboring these parasites.
Some clients don’t believe that their pet could have worms. But, pets can come into contact with these parasites in the yard, in potting soil, at the dog park or even on our hands or feet after we come inside from working in the garden or after taking a walk. The larva and eggs of these parasites are simply abundant in many places.
In fact, a single female worm can shed more than 100,000 eggs per day and most puppies and kittens are infected with more than just one worm! That’s millions of eggs spreading through areas where dogs and cats go to defecate. Pets infected with a protozoan parasite, like coccidia or giardia, can shed over a billion cysts each and every day!
So, what does your veterinarian do with the sample you brought Most people understand that veterinarians are checking fecals as a means to find intestinal parasites, more commonly known as “worms”. What is less well known is that the veterinarian is not looking for whole adult parasites. They are looking for microscopic eggs and protozoans that may inhabit your pet.
First, the feces are mixed with a sugar or salt solution, a liquid that is slightly denser than regular tap water. Breaking up the stool allows any infective eggs to enter the solution. Next, the mixture is carefully poured into conical tubes that are placed in a centrifuge. The spinning action helps separate the organic debris of the feces from the parasites and the parasite eggs.
After about 10 minutes, the suspension is then allowed to sit with a microscope coverslip placed on top. The eggs and most parasites will float to the top and adhere to the coverslip. A veterinary technician or assistant can then take this sample and review it under a microscope. Any positive specimens are discussed with the veterinarian and an appropriate deworming medication can be prescribed.
This process may not sound appetizing to most readers, but these tests are an important part of a veterinarian’s dedication to your pets, but also to public health as a whole. The CDC, the Companion Animal Parasite Council and the American Animal Hospital Association all recommend regular fecal testing for all pets. This means you can expect to package up a stool sample once or twice each year per pet. If your pets aren’t on monthly heartworm prevention, your veterinarian may ask for a sample every 1-2 months!
According to PetsAndParasites.com, a website devoted to tracking the occurrence of parasites in our pets, the prevalence of deadly heartworms continues to cause problems. More than 1% of dogs tested will be positive for heartworms in the US every year. That’s almost a million pets suffering from a preventable disease! Rates are even higher for parasites like roundworms, whipworms and hookworms!
Thankfully, we have had safe and effective parasite treatment and preventive products available for many years. So, why are we still seeing so many cases? There are many theories.
Despite the claims of Internet sites who say rising resistance among heartworms or massive failure of preventives is to blame, the reality is probably a little closer to home. Dr. Sheldon Rubin, a past president of the American Heartworm Society is quoted as saying that human error or forgetfulness is probably the biggest reason for pets developing heartworm disease. His comments are echoed by research in Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana that reviewed cases of presumed heartworm preventive failure and found that owner compliance was actually much lower than originally reported.
But, an uncertainty among pet owners about which product to use (market confusion), as well as economic factors, are fueling at least some of the issue. Generic heartworm preventives can now be found in many human pharmacies and online pet pharmacies are offering six to ten different medications to the public. It’s frankly hard for a pet owner to choose.
Experts from the American Heartworm Society recommend giving heartworm preventive year round. Just be sure you are using a prescription product that contains one of these known compounds; ivermectin, milbemycin oxime, selamectin or moxidectin. Then your pet needs to receive a dose once monthly, every month, all year long.
Some of these medications are also effective against intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. A few of these preventives are also now using compounds to treat tapeworms in addition to the other parasites. It’s even possible to get heartworm preventive that also includes means to help control fleas!!
Part of consumer confusion is whether to buy the least expensive product or the one that covers every possible parasite. Veterinarians do understand how this can be such a confounding problem.
In fact, certain parasites are less common in some areas of the country and your pet’s risk factors vary quite a bit. These risk factors also include exposure to parasites through trips to dog parks, hiking or camping, interstate travel or even the presence of other animals in the household.
Veterinarians follow these trends every year. They couple this information with their understanding of the different life cycles, knowledge of your pet’s specific medical conditions, the reputation of the drug manufacturers and your region of the country. They are ideally equipped to help you more fully understand exactly which product provides the best parasite protection for your pet and your family.
Also it is so important for you not to fall for advice in online forums that recommend odd-ball alternative methods of protecting your pets against any parasite, but especially heartworm disease. Many of these simply fuel speculation about diminishing effectiveness of heartworm preventives and they are not well researched. These sites often misinterpret data or are actively promoting products that have not gone through proper testing and safety research.
This is an area of pet care where we have made great advances, but bad advice and a confusing market have created unnecessary risks and vulnerabilities. Trust your pet’s healthcare advice to your family veterinarian and team. Trusted products from Deerfield Veterinary Hospital can be found at our hospital. Our pharmacy is price competitive with most online and local big box retailers. Call the hospital today to setup your account with Deerfield.
From simple heartworm tests to complex, multi-parameter chemistry profiles, blood screenings are a vital tool in your veterinarian’s arsenal for finding and treating many different diseases. Whether your pet is in the hospital because he is sick or because she needs surgery, many veterinary clinics can now decide what lab work is needed and run those tests immediately.
Not only is this type of diagnostic assessment helpful with sick pets, but our healthy animals are benefiting as well. Early signs of many different illnesses will first show up in a blood profile, long before any outward, clinical symptoms are seen.
Historically, veterinarians have used large reference laboratories to process their patients’ samples, but in recent years, counter top and “point of care” instruments have surged in popularity. One main reason is that veterinarians can now have answers to your pet’s problems in minutes, rather than hours. That, of course, helps the doctor make crucial medical decisions and possibly start treatment earlier.
Another reason for the success of in house blood analyzers is that the sophisticated automation and equipment have helped minimize errors that plagued early attempts. Companies like Heska, Abaxis, Idexx and others have developed compact devices that use patented technology and modern optical scanners to reliably provide results in urgent situations.
So, now that your veterinarian can do these tests in the clinic, what exactly is he or she looking for?
Whether your pet is sick, needs some sort of anesthetic procedure or maybe just a senior check up, the most common set of blood work will involve a complete blood count (CBC) and a chemistry profile. Depending on symptoms and the patient’s overall status, the chemistry panel may just cover a few key parameters or it may be all inclusive.
CBCs are a measure of the different types and numbers of cells in the blood. Patients who have too few red blood cells are considered anemic and may have difficulty delivering precious oxygen to the body’s tissues. White blood cells are the microbial defenders of the pet. These soldier cells patrol the body and attack invading bacteria, viruses and other foreign organisms. When a CBC shows a high white count, your veterinarian may be concerned about some sort of active infection. Conversely, low white blood cell counts could mean the cells are depleted from a chronic infection or, in the case of puppies and kittens, could be a sign of a parvovirus.
Chemistry panels will look at key enzymes and metabolic products to determine the health of internal organs. Everyone understands that a high glucose level on a chemistry panel probably indicates a diabetic animal, but less well known are indicators like Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP), Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN), Creatinine and about two dozen others. Veterinarians can identify kidney disease, liver disease and many issues, including some cancers, from these key components of a pet’s blood work.
Combined with the pet’s symptoms, environment and other factors, your pet’s doctor will use the results of blood work run in their clinic to give you an accurate diagnosis. When you get the results, avoid the temptation to consult Dr.Google. It is possible to find some good information, however, without a complete picture, some well meaning, but un-informed individuals online may lead you to question your veterinarian’s findings.
It’s important to know that some specific or special testing will still need to be sent to reference laboratories. In either case, diagnostic blood work is a powerful tool to help your veterinarian take the best possible care of your pet. That gives you peace of mind and a better understanding of your pet’s health and provides vital information for any future medical needs.
The latest study on heartworm preventative resistance spotlights the most important factors in preventing this condition in the Ozarks. Clarke Atkins DVM, DVM, DACVIM, professor of veterinary medicine and cardiology at North Carolina State University just completed his study in the Mississippi River Delta. This area is a hotbed for heartworm disease and has been the recent focus area for studies on the resistant MP3 heartworm.
His study suggests that dog owner’s failure to purchase and administer preventatives every 30 days plays a larger role in canine heartworm disease than resistance to heartworm preventatives. He also adds that current research does not point to any particular product being more effective than another.
His study does not disprove the resistant MP3 strain, only that administering medications in a timely manner (every 30 days) is the most important factor in preventing this parasite in the dog.
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