Most dogs are protected against mosquito transmitted heartworm disease – around 60 percent. That figure may sound acceptable to some, but certainly not to Dr. Thomas Nelson, president of the American Heartworm Society.
“That means 40 percent – approaching half – are not protected,” Nelson said. “Since heartworm disease is potentially deadly, and absolutely avoidable when the dog is given a monthly preventative,” he added, “we have to do better.”
Nelson explained some people are concerned about giving their dog medication of any kind. “Heartworm preventives are a very safe class of drug,” he says. “We really don’t see adverse reactions.”
Could it be that veterinarians are not emphasizing the importance of prevention? “Perhaps, but mostly I don’t believe that is true,” answered Nelson. “However, it is true that some people don’t routinely visit the veterinarian. And veterinarians can’t communicate to clients unless they have the opportunity.”
Some dogs do survive heartworm disease without showing symptoms, even with several or up to several dozen spaghetti sized worms living in their lungs. “True enough,” conceded Nelson, who adds that some people continue to smoke cigarettes because they know other smokers who have never gotten lung cancer.
Mention price as an “excuse” for not buying a preventive product, and Nelson just loses it. “No, I don’t buy it,” he said vehemently. “It’s an excuse, and not a very good one. If your pet isn’t worth 10 to 25 cents a day, something isn’t right.”
What’s more, all monthly heartworm preventives also protect against other internal parasites, such as hookworm and roundworm; some heartworm meds protect against external parasites, like fleas and ticks.
“I’d argue all that protection in one place is a bargain,” added Nelson, who is a private practicing veterinarian in Anniston, Ala.
Roundworm, in particular, is a potentially serious problem, which Nelson said isn’t spoken about often enough. Nelson, who is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Companion Animal Parasite Council, explained that not only can roundworm be transmitted from dogs to people, it can cause blindness in people. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it occurs mostly in children.
“Instead of worrying about de-worming dogs, we’re now advocating prevention in the first place,” he says.
Nelson will be among the experts participating in the American Heartworm Society 2007 Triennial Heartworm Symposium in July in conjunction with the American Veterinary Medical Association Annual Convention in Washington, D.C.
Researchers from around the world will speak at the Heartworm Symposium revealing the latest breakthroughs.
Though expensive to treat, heartworm disease is considered treatable. However, that treatment is arsenic. No surprise, this is one of those cases that, while treatment is necessary, the treatment can be nearly as problematic as the disease.
Only a few years ago, researchers learned that a bacterium called wolbachia is always present with heartworms, and in fact, likely necessary for the heartworm to exist. John McCall, professor emeritus at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, Athens, combined Ivermectin (used to prevent heartworm) with an antibiotic (to deal with the bacterial wolbachia) and documented nearly an 80 percent kill rate. Add some of the traditional arsenical medication to the mix, and the kill rate approached 100 percent. What’s more, there’s little damage to the lungs, which is a part of the adverse impact of the arsenical medication when used alone.
“We’re nowhere ready to recommend this treatment yet,” says McCall. “But this is very promising for the treatment of heartworm disease.”
To learn more about heartworm disease, as well as other internal and external parasites affecting people and pets, check out these Web sites:
- Companion Animal Parasite Control: www.petsandparasites.org
- American Heartworm Society: www.heartwormsociety.org
© Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services