Home > The Bare Bones, Uncategorized > What you don’t know about Heartworm disease could kill

What you don’t know about Heartworm disease could kill

Should you listen to the vets and the commercials regarding heartworm preventative for your dogs and cats?

This post will help you make your own choices on the matter.  If you’re not using the prevention- it’s OK, so long as you know why you’re not and take ownership of that decision.
heartworm graphic

Why You may have been doing a test at your annual veterinary visit to check for heartworm, or perhaps you give a monthly treat that’s intended to prevent heartworm.  I recently met a woman that stopped her heartworm prevention for her 2 dogs and 1 indoor cat a year ago, when she was laid off.  She’s been beating herself up over it and is terrified that one of her pets is going to suddenly drop dead from heartworm disease or they will develop symptoms and the treatment will seriously wreck her already off-track finances. Before we even get into whether or not her concerns are founded I have to ask, “if she is legitimately concerned, why did she stop the prevention?”  Let’s be honest with ourselves, much of what we do for our pets is for our own peace of mind.  What is the value of the peace of mind this woman lost and the cost of the worry and stress?

What Heartworm disease affects dogs and cats as well as other mammals.  It is a parasite contracted by mosquitos carrying the parasite.  Within the veterinary community there is much debate about heartworm disease as you’ll see below.

Incidence How prevalent is heartworm disease?  The numbers are all at least 2 years old and seem to have great variance depending on the source as seen here, The Billion Dollar Heartworm Scam and here at the American Heartworm Society page.

Treatment vs. Prevention There is also debate about whether treatments are available (specifically for cats), and if the prevention medication would do harm if the animal was already affected by heartworm disease and up to what point in the lifecycle of the parasite.  See the AVMA Animal Tracks podcast and the video below.

AVMA Animal Tracks podcast.

Cats You may read in one place that indoor cats may have a higher incidence of heartworm disease than outdoor cats.  In another area you may see that heartworm isn’t as prevalent in cats at all.  Treating or preventing with cats its important to notice the symptoms are often different than those a dog would experience.  In dogs, heartworm is considered a cardiac issue and in cats it more of a respiratory issue.  This can lead to misdiagnosis, be patient and be diligent, with your pet care team as you go thru the diagnostics strategically, considering all options.

Product Sales Every good researcher knows to always consider the source.  Most of the data related to heartworm disease prevalence, prevention, treatment and diagnosis of heartworm is presented by the veterinary laboratory companies, who benefit by the sales of testing and the product manufacturer of the preventatives and treatments.  Even the American Heartworm Society has Officers on the board from the major manufacturers of preventatives.

What to do It’s no wonder so many pet parents are up in arms and unsure whether they’re being sold something they may not need, or if they’re risking their pet’s lives by questioning the system.  What if we take it down to basics?

Location The published maps, regardless of the actual numbers clearly show trends in areas.  Lets go with what the critics can agree on.  The various sides are not debating the regionally of the disease.  Be sure to consider micro-climates that may not appear on a National map.  You know if your area feels more like Georgia than Nevada.  This is your pet’s safety and health we’re considering, not just finances.  It’s important to be honest with ourselves.

Culprit We know that infection is spread via the bite of a heartworm carrying mosquito.  Without worrying about which type or how the mosquito gets it, what if we consider the prevalence and exposure to our pets and mosquitos in general?  If you take your faithful dog camping with you every other weekend to a lake, you may see a few more mosquitos than the city dog that rarely leaves the apartment.  Then, there is that possibility of developing some level of immunity that is under debate.  Are you RaisingMosquitos?  (Click the link for an excellent pdf on where to look for and how to prevent mosquitos.)

Risk Assessment Remember that you’re in charge here.  This is your pet, your family and you are fully capable of evaluating the information available to you and making the decision for your pets.  The scary part is that if you make a choice and the “worst” occurs, you have to accept that you made that choice.  Are you OK with that?  The consult of a trusted professional is always the best; heading that advise is still your choice and ultimately your responsibility.

If in reading this you are not sure you trust your veterinary team, please find ways to remedy that immediately.  Perhaps a candid conversation during a paid appointment time will help to forward your relationship from a sales transaction to a partnership.  So many veterinarians want to be partners with pet parents and are consistently asked to make all the decisions and fix everything on their own.

Research with due diligence and pay attention to the sources of information.  Always question from a perspective of concern rather than resolve.  Your pet care team probably has the best intentions and will most likely respond well to your new, more active approach to your pet’s care.   For more information about communicating with your pet care team in a way that is mutually respectful and will yield the best results, see Speaking for Spot a great blog inspired by an excellent book of the same name.

  1. Kathy Carlsen
    April 19, 2011 at 4:32 am

    Wow! I loved reading “The Billion Dollar Heartworm Scam”. I have always had my doubts about the need for monthly prevention…since I am really forgetful about giving it. Despite that, my dogs have (so far) died of old age, not heartworm disease, at the age of 14.5 and 16. Food for thought for those of us who don’t want to give a monthly dose of medication.

  2. June 15, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    There’s a new scandal within the heart worm industry right now. It sounds very “big tobacco” style.

  3. October 19, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    I like your site! (I’m a vet) never forget I was in veterinary school and many people quickly found out that it is not necessarily a snug and toasty
    profession like they assume it will be! Dirty vet’s scrubs, long hours, little rest, and
    lots to know, however this is totally really worth it.

    I think all the cautionary tales and horror misrepresentations concerning getting
    into veterinary school are inflated and also harmful to our profession’s greatest survival.
    And we are actually our own toughest enemies when it pertains to making up excuses.

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