by Connie G.
Coming Soon to a Pet Near You?
Imagine you were told that, without taking any steps to protect yourself, you had a better than one in four chance of contracting a deadly disease. Imagine you were able to prevent that from ever happening by taking a simple pill every 30 days. Imagine that pill costs as little as $6/dose ... less than a pizza, less than a specialty coffee drink at Starbucks, less than a month of Netflix. Taking that pill would seem like a no-brainer, right? And yet, a 2015 study by Merial showed that 63.5% of dogs in the United States left veterinary clinics without heartworm preventive.1 Even in the South, where heartworm disease is endemic, 56% of dogs were not being protected.
The current American Heartworm Society guidelines recommend year-round protection against heartworms, and once-yearly testing. At Kingsland, the discussion is typically had at every wellness exam, and often, even when a pet is brought in for other concerns. We recommend year-round heartworm prevention to every dog or cat (yes, cats can get heartworms, too!), even for pets who only venture outdoors for exercise and potty breaks.
So what are heartworms, exactly?
Heartworm disease is a serious disease caused by foot-long worms that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets. Untreated, heartworm disease causes 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. Wild species such as foxes and coyotes are often important carriers of the disease.
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes, which is why they are such an issue in the humid Texas Gulf Coast. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, it picks up baby worms, or microfilaria, circulating in the bloodstream of that animal. Over a period of 10 days to 2 weeks, those worms develop into infective larvae that are capable of being deposited on the skin of potential host animals and then entering the bloodstream via the mosquito’s bite. Over the next six months or so, those larvae develop into adult heartworms that can then live in the host’s bloodstream for up to 5-7 years, causing damage and eventually leading to the pet’s death.
Heartworm by the numbers
While studies quantifying the exact risk of not protecting your pet are not readily available, Kingsland has worked closely with several local rescue groups for a number of years, one purebred rescue in particular for the past 15 years. In that time, this group has seen over 1300 dogs come through its doors. A review of their intakes show that 3 in 10 of the dogs test heartworm positive. These are not only dogs from the shelter and streets, whose history is unknown, but also dogs directly from owners. Some of the dogs may well have been largely kept outdoors, but also a goodly number were “inside dogs.” While it’s almost certain that a reasonable percentage of these 1300+ dogs were taken care of in their lifetime and/or lived inside, still 3 in 10 dogs of this random sampling had contracted heartworm disease, indicating that those without prevention had an inordinately high risk of contracting the disease. These dogs, when well enough to do so, went through a rough treatment program to kill the heartworms.
If there’s a treatment, why worry?
Simply put – treatment is rigorous, and expensive – more than 10 times the cost of a year’s worth of prevention. The American Heartworm Society protocol for canine heartworm treatment recommends 1 month of preparing the dog for treatment with medications, then administering a single injection of Immiticide to kill off the adult heartworms (a sometimes-painful lumbar injection, for which the pet will receive medication for the discomfort, as well as medications to be given throughout the month to protect against the potential side effects of the worms dying off), cage resting the dog for 30 days during which the owner is instructed to leash walk only to prevent causing an embolism, then administering two more Immiticide injections given 24 hours apart, 30 more days of cage rest, leash walking, and more medications, then testing the dog 6 months later to make sure the treatment worked. A pre-treatment workup, to stage the disease and assess risk factors, includes bloodwork, xrays, and a urinalysis. The cost of this regimen for a 25# dog can be as much as $800-1000. There is no treatment available for feline heartworms.
Okay, you have my attention – What do I do now?
Prevention, prevention, prevention. If your dog has not had a heartworm test within the past 12 months, we will need to schedule one to start the process. Prevention is as simple as one pill, once every 30 days, or even a single injection given once every six months. At Kingsland, we strongly believe that protecting your pet against heartworms is a crucial part of their health care. We work closely with our suppliers to develop specials to make this medication, so vital to your pet’s well-being, available and affordable by creating “free dose” promotions and providing rebates on purchases. We can assist you with setting up reminder services to make sure doses aren’t missed. We provide significant discounts and even free product to our rescue groups, recognizing their role both in helping treat pets for heartworm disease and in educating the adoptive homes in the importance of prevention. It’s a shared health mission, and our goal is to make sure our clients are informed and able to keep their pets from ever having to deal with this very preventable disease. And while no preventive is 100% effective, by purchasing your preventive at your veterinarian’s office, you are making yourself a part of a manufacturer’s guarantee, that should your pet contract heartworms while consistently on the medication, whether because of failure of the medication, or the pet hid it in the bushes when you weren’t looking, or the pet vomited it up when you weren’t aware – for whatever reason – cost of treatment for your pet will be covered by the manufacturer.
Our veterinarians can discuss with you the most appropriate choice for you and your pet. Please call us today.
- Data on file, Merial, Inc., Duluth, GA. HGD15TRTECHDETAILER (03/15)