Canine Heartworm Update

August 14, 2013

Last week I was a guest on Dr. Frank Adams’ monthly pet show on NYU Langone Medical Center’s “Dr. Radio.” One of the callers asked if heartworm preventative was really necessary in her dogs. She thought (incorrectly) that since she lived in an area where mosquitoes are uncommon, her dogs would be safe against heartworm infection. My answer to her was a resounding “yes” and I added, “Give those pills exactly on time.”

canine heartworm life cycle

Click image to enlarge

Treatment versus prevention
No dog owner would ever miss a dose of heartworm preventative if they knew how difficult and dangerous treating heartworms can be. When a diagnosis of heartworm disease is made, any signs of heart failure must be immediately controlled. After your dog’s heart has been stabilized, veterinarians then administer a drug by injection to kill the adult heartworms. Strict cage rest is instituted to minimize the risk of blood clots which may form in the lungs as a result of dying heartworms. Cage rest continues for at least a month after adult heartworm treatment. Protocols for the treatment of adult heartworms are 90-98% successful and if unsuccessful, your dog will need to be treated a second time. Throughout treatment for adult worms, your dog must be maintained on heartworm preventative in case of another bite by an infected mosquito.

Heartworm review
Mosquitoes transmit heartworms. A bite from an infected mosquito injects heartworm larvae into your dog’s blood stream. Heartworm preventative kills the larvae before they mature. If unchecked by heartworm preventative, the larvae mature in the large blood vessels of the heart and lungs, leading to severe heart and lung compromise.

CAPC changes heartworm recommendations
Last month, the Companion Animal Parasite Council revised its guidelines regarding canine heartworm disease. Council members cited new evidence of resistance of heartworms from the Mississippi Delta region to heartworm preventatives, specifically ivermectin, selamectin, moxidectin and milbemycin oxime, confirming years of speculation about resistance in the veterinary community. At this time, it is not known how widespread heartworm resistance is, but it makes an annual heartworm test even more important than before.

Heartworm prevention tips

  • Year round administration of heartworm medication gives the best protection against heartworms.
  • Giving heartworm medication precisely on time is critical to successful prevention.
  • Place the stickers from the heartworm preventative medication on your calendar to remind you to give the monthly heartworm preventative.
  • Sign up for email or text message reminders on your smartphone from the website of your heartworm preventative manufacturer.
  • Get the reminder app from the website of your heartworm preventative manufacturer.
  • Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk. Keep your dog indoors during peak mosquito activity.
  • Ask your veterinarian about monthly flea and tick medications that also repel mosquitoes.

What’s On the Mind of Pet Owners?

December 5, 2012

older man with catA recent survey of both pet owners and veterinarians interrogated the pet health issues each group thought were most important. In last week’s post, I discussed the issues from the veterinarian’s point of view. In this blog I will write from the pet owner’s point of view.

Pet owners said they were primarily concerned with vaccinations, fleas and ticks, heartworms, intestinal parasites, and spending money on medications. This list appears to overlap with the veterinary list on the topic of intestinal parasites, and both owners and vets are squarely focused on preventive healthcare; care to keep their favorite furry, feathery, or scaly companion healthy.

Vaccinations

Vaccinations float to the top of most pet owners’ lists because they save pets’ lives. Before vaccinations were available for common diseases like canine distemper and feline panleukopenia, these diseases spread through neighborhoods like wildfire, often resulting in the deaths of many pets. Decreases in the recommended frequency of some vaccines, coupled with the association between injections and tumors, has raised many questions in pet owners’ minds.

Intestinal parasites

Both pet owners and veterinarians agreed intestinal parasite control was an important issue for pets. How could it not be? Intestinal parasites are high in yuck factor, high in pet discomfort, and on the list of diseases people and pets can share.

Fleas and ticks

These critters are very similar to intestinal parasites with regard to yuck factor and pet discomfort. A pet with a flea infestation may mean you also have a house or apartment with a flea infestation since fleas spend more time off your pet than on. Pet owners want to avoid an expensive exterminator bill by preventing fleas on their pet. Pet owners also want to prevent fleas and ticks to protect their pet against diseases like Lyme disease and blood parasites.

Heartworms

Because heartworms are a serious health concern in both dogs and cats, they are an important medical issue for most pet owners. Nearly every state in the United States reports cases of heartworm in resident dogs and cats. This map shows heartworm cases by state.

Year-round heartworm preventative is a “two-fer” since most prevent both heartworms and some intestinal parasites.

Pet medications

Pet owners want the best for their pet. In my mind, the best are veterinary-specific products. I prefer to prescribe medications developed specifically for veterinary patients rather than human or compounded medications. Veterinary-specific medications assure you, the pet owner, the product has been tested in dogs or cats and will be absorbed, metabolized, and effective in your pet. But, because most pets do not have insurance and medications are paid for “out of pocket,” many times pet owners can be surprised at the cost. As a pet owner myself, I believe that these veterinary-specific medications are worth paying for.

After looking carefully at the two lists of pet healthcare issues, one from pet owners and the other from veterinarians, are they really so different? Both groups’ lists really have only one item and it’s the same one: healthy, happy pets.


Bedbugs and Pets

November 1, 2010

A few weekends ago, I was volunteering at The AMC’s “Ask the Vet” booth during AKC’s Meet the Breeds show at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. A pet owner came to the booth with questions about bedbugs and pets. I know there is a nationwide epidemic of bedbugs, but in veterinary school parasitology, I remember learning bedbugs are a nuisance to humans not animals. I decided to do some reading and here is what I found.

First, a bit about bedbug biology. They belong to the family Cimicidae and are flightless, so they crawl to their host. Like most parasites, bedbugs are very specific in their choice of host. And fortunately for your pet, bedbugs prefer people over pets. The blood of humans, dogs and cats is different and bedbugs have evolved to feast on human blood. Bedbugs climb on their host only to feed and spend the rest of the time in mattresses, furniture and crevices. As nocturnal creatures, they feed at night, attacking their sleeping host, hence their colloquial name bedbug. For more information on bedbug biology from entomologists (bug experts), go to http://www.oasas.state.ny.us/AdMed/FYI/bedbugs.cfm.

Bedbugs live in environments, not on pets or people, and can easily be confused with other household bugs. If your pet has critters crawling in its fur, black specks deposited on its blanket and is scratching up a storm, most likely your pet has fleas, not bedbugs. This time of year when the weather gets cold, fleas are looking to move indoors and you might be more likely to see them in your house. 

If you do discover bedbugs, there are a few things you can do to decrease the number of bedbugs in your home. Wash bedding in hot, soapy water and dry them in a hot dryer (>120 degrees F). Vacuuming thoroughly and discarding the bag after each vacuuming session will help decrease bedbugs in the environment. Ultimately, most people need a professional exterminator to clear the bedbugs from their home. For more information on eradicating bedbugs from your home, go to http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/vector/bed-bug-guide.pdf.

If you use the services of a professional exterminator, follow his directions explicitly. Keep in mind, insecticides are common causes of toxicity in pets. Insecticides used in the treatment of environmental bedbugs are generally safe for pets if used properly. 

If your pet has previously experienced reactions to flea and tick preventatives, check with your veterinarian to determine if the product your exterminator recommended is safe for your pet.

This blog and many others may be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog from WebMD.
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For nearly a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


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