2007-07-11 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
Heartworm is like "Jaws". Just when you think you know who is safe, the facts change....By now all dog owners should realize that heartworm happens. Mosquitoes spread the disease. However, according to the American Heartworm Society (AHS), despite the deadly threat to unprotected dogs, only 59 percent of dog owners regularly administer preventative. Veterinarians are rethinking the notion that just dogs are at risk. Recent findings show that heartworm kills cats too. Mosquitoes are still the culprits but feline heartworm affects cats differently.
In cats researchers have discovered that symptoms such as heavy or fast breathing often diagnosed as feline asthma or allergic bronchitis may actually be caused by heartworm in the larval or adult phase, even if the cat tests negative for heartworm. The term HARD (Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease) is the new clinical acronym for this feline syndrome. Additional symptoms, including coughing, blindness, and weight loss, mimic other conditions. Heartworm's difficult to diagnose. Many cats infected don't show any distress. The first sign, unfortunately, can be sudden death. It's preventable, yet presently only 5 percent of US cat owners safeguard their cats.
Last spring Dr. Thomas Nelson, president of the AHS and the late Dr. Jim Richards director of Cornell Feline Health Center launched the KNOW Heartworms public awareness campaign to dispel the myths and misunderstandings about the disease in cats. They brought their urgent message to as many colleagues and cat lovers as possible. (Sadly, I was supposed to meet with Dr. Richards to learn more the week he tragically died in a motorcycle accident.) The 5 main myths are:
For more information visit www.heartßwormsociety. org or my archived 6/08/06 Beacon or 6/07/06 Record column link. We live on Long Island, a mosquito Mecca. Since heartworm is prevalent in the unprotected (41 percent of the owned; 100 percent of the homeless) dog population around here, the parasitic probability also exists to harm cats. Consider shielding your precious cats from the disease too, but talk to your veterinarian first.
Note: Recently I read unfair criticism singling out a town shelter for unknowingly adopting out a heartworm positive (HW+) dog. An irresponsible and oblivious public, not a town shelter, is to blame for the dog's illness. The more neglected the dog; the more likely to be heartworm infested. Finances and climate play a part. So many Katrina dogs had heartworm because they lived near the Gulf coast where infection rates approach 45 percent, were surrounded by dogs carrying larvae (microfilariae) that mosquitoes could transmit to other dogs, and their owners were too poor to seek vet care.
Right now on LI only one formerly municipal, now privatized East End shelter, heartworm tests on intake. Some others let the adopter pay for the test when the dog leaves. The diagnosis would still be a surprise. Many prospective owners would pass on that HW+ pooch.
All LI town shelter adoption policies have progressed compassionately over the last 25 years. Spay/neuter and adoption outreach are beginning to curtail over population. Thankfully, our pounds now hold dogs, even senior dogs, much longer than they have to by law. With prolonged stays comes the theoretical possibility that any dog could be sitting in a town shelter for months with hidden heartworm. Years ago many an owned dog would be euthanized immediately, a stray on the 8th day to make space for the influx.
Last month I pulled a sweet, matted Chow for Chow Rescue. We're dealing with her heartworm discovered at their vet. Wasn't the first time a healthy looking dog fooled me; probably won't be the last. Real rescuers expect the worst and are thrilled when they dodge a medical bullet. Heartworm happens.
For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: "Trapper" is a Shepherd mix pup now in the Puppy Pen about 12 weeks caught in a humane trap. This frightened fellow, part of a feral pack in the landfill area, will need a lot of TLC to socialize him so he learns to trust. He was well-behaved in the tub and during tick removal. This happy Hound mix in Cage 9 was found in Babylon Village.
More Shelter Selections: "Bob Barker" mature Pointer mix Cage 43 saved from a cemetery last winter; a buff female Cocker Spaniel Cage 89; "Zoey"- a black Lab Cage a93; a brindle Lab mix gal in Cage 59; "June"- the young Mama cat in the colony; "Jewel" & "Faith"- 2 sweetheart cats in C-9.