2006-06-07 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets...
Pets of the Week
If you love your pooch with all your heart, your pooch should be on heartworm preventative. Too many dog owners ignore this silent killer spread by mosquitoes. Global warming might be stretching our mosquito season, since the American Heartworm Society reports that heartworm infection is on the rise. A survey of 12,000 US clinics in 2004 found a quarter of a million cases. The Society estimates that about 27 million of the nation's 61.5 million dogs are not on monthly preventatives, so the potential for undetected heartworm infections could be in the millions.
Katrina didn't help matters either. The life cycle of heartworm is complicated and insidious. About 60% of the Katrina rescued dogs were heartworm positive, not because of the hurricane, but because they lived in a warm, wet climate and were either strays or had never been tested or put on the monthly meds. Veterinarians soon realized that relocating these dogs all over the country posed an unexpected risk to the new owners' dogs. They had to rethink the traditional treatment. A health protocol was developed to treat the Gulf area dogs immediately after diagnosis in a way that would limit the chance that they would carry the larvae that could infect other dogs via mosquitoes. The underlying heartworm disease in the refugee dogs would be addressed a little later.
To simplifyit takes at least 2 dogs and 1 mosquito for full blown heartworm. The lifecycle of the heartworm begins when an infected dog carrying immature heartworm larvae (microfilariae) in its blood is bitten by a mosquito. The mosquito takes in these microfilariae when she feeds. During the next 2 to 3 weeks the larvae develop into the infective stage. When this mosquito bites again, she can inject infective larvae into a healthy dog. The larvae penetrate the dogs' skin and travel through the tissues. As they develop over the next few months, they eventually reach the dog's heart where they can grow into adult heartworms up to 14 inches long, damaging the heart, lungs, and possibly other organs. If left untreated, the dog will die. Meanwhile the female heartworm in this infected dog produces thousands of new microfilariae each day which can infect other dogs.
Unfortunately most heartworm afflicted dogs do not show any symptomscoughing or labored breathinguntil the condition is advanced. Preventatives given to a heartworm positive dog can be harmful and are not a cure. Therefore, your dog needs a blood test to make sure he is heartworm free before you start the monthly pills. A filtration test looks for microfilariae and an occult test checks for adult worms in the heart. There are several kinds of monthly medicines like Interceptor and Heartguard which protect against intestinal parasites too. On LI, we used to stop the pills for the winter. However, many local vets now recommend year round pills plus a blood test once every 2 years.
Heartworm can be treated but it is expensive and has some risks. Preliminary tests, such as x-rays, are required to see how far the disease has progressed. The treatment is a 2 prong approach over several monthsfirst injections of an arsenic-like compound to kill the adult worms and later medicine to rid the blood stream of microfilariae. Immiticide, the new adulticide, is safer than the old arsenic drug, but the dogs still must be kept calm and supervised closely after treatment because, as the worms die, they can travel to the lungs and cause a fatal pulmonary embolism, especially if the dog had a severe infestation. Follow up testing is needed to be sure the dog is clear of the parasite.
The folks I speak to at vaccine clinics seemed to be confused about heartworm. Many erroneously think that their topical flea protection or an intestinal "worming" protects their dog. Others say their dog stays indoors. Mosquitoes do come in the house to bite.
I zero in on the needy and neglected dogs for Last Hope so I'm reluctant to print the following statistic because Joanne the Jinx, as I'm now called, strives to encourage folks to adopt from town pounds; but in the last six months, 2 out of 3 of the last dogs I've taken from the shelter were heartworm positive. Both were young dogs with tricky, occult cases, both have been treated successfully, via a long, costly process. Heartworm is out there, and it is definitely a disease where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Lots of loving pets at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon wait patiently for homes. "Lady" in Cage 95 is a petite Shepherd /Tervuren mix found wandering in the Target parking lot. The "Smudge Siblings", 2 darling young cats in the Cat Colony, were left behind a few months ago when their owner moved. They do not have to be adopted together. See more photos on the Babylon Shelter Petfinder site.
Females: a Malinois/Retriever mix in Cage 89very sweet; an older Shih-tzu in the Puppy Room; "Eve"a small smooth Shepherd mix in Cage 49.
Males: "Noz"the Westie mix in Cage 15; "Geezer"the Lab mix who is always happy to see you in Cage 43; a handsome Retriever mix in Cage 1.
Rain dateThe Last Hope Dog Walk/ Fun Night BBQ at Wantagh Park has been rescheduled for this Sat. 6/10. Registration begins at 4 PM. $20 per dog and handler, $5 additional per dog and handler. Call 516-486-3158 or 631205-5069.