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What you don’t know about Heartworm disease could kill

April 3, 2011 3 comments

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.


I planned for terrible; it gets worse. Estate planning for pets gone wrong.

March 24, 2011 Leave a comment

You’ve seen the last post. You’ve been moved to action and created a well thought out plan for your pets.  Then you hear a story like this…

Taken from a story shared by Alexandra:

Back in 2008 a friend of mine, “Ann” heard through one of her friends, “John” about a woman, “Frieda” who was dying of cancer in Oakland. This woman was well-off; she owned a house in Oakland and some land in Bolinas. She had two 10 year old cats, one of whom had just had to have an eye removed due to malignant melanoma. While she herself was dying, she paid thousands of dollars for her cat’s surgery.

In her will, written in 2003, she left her cats to a close friend of many decades, and said that if that friend was not able to take them, she left them to yet another friend. She also left a bequest of $1,000 to whoever took the cats. She had discussed this with both friends before naming them in her will.

When Frieda died, John became her executor. He contacted both friends named in the will and even though they had promised Frieda to take the cats, they refused with some lame-ass excuses that basically boiled down to, they didn’t feel like it. He mentioned this to my friend Ann who agreed to foster the cats (she lives in San Francisco).

Frieda’s son “Evan” also lived in Oakland and went over to feed the cats for about a week but got impatient because he wanted to sell his mother’s house. So, 10 days after his mother died, he took her 10 year old one-eyed cat and his sister to the Oakland pound – a kill shelter – surrendered them, and called Ann from the parking lot to say if she wanted to foster them, she could come and get them. Which would be about a 40 mile drive round trip for her. His reason? It was his day off and so it was convenient for him to get rid of them that day.

Ann told him in no uncertain terms to go back in and get the cats and bring them to her. Which, thankfully, he did. To this day, they live with Ann. Who didn’t even know Frieda! She has spent thousands on their medical care and has not received even the $1,000 bequest that Frieda left in her will.

The son, Evan sounds horrible from reading this.  How could he be so selfish after all the effort his mother had put towards caring for her cats?  He is self-employed in a business that is all about caring and nurturing. To visit his mother’s memorial blog or his own business’s web site, you would never know that he was capable of such callous treatment of his mother’s beloved pets.

I only post this story to say, no matter how much of a safety net you think you given your animals who survive you – good luck with that. But having said that, it is really important to plan ahead, even if you are young and expect to outlive your animals, because any one of us could get hit by a truck tomorrow. And, make a backup for your backup!!!


Here are some links to some great programs that can assure the safety of your pets with organizations that aren’t going anywhere and won’t say “no” when the time comes:

Always do your own research and due diligence before signing any contracts or gifting any money to an organization.  If searching for more information, consider the term “perpetual care”

California Pet lovers- Get your plates!

October 28, 2010 1 comment

California Spay and Neuter License Plate

Why don’t you have your plates yet?  The state of California has offered an alternative.  They’ve offered us a way to support our pets, support spaying and neutering without imposing mandatory regulations.

This is not a mandatory regulation, but a cost displacement for individual communities to offer free subsidized services.  The public may not know this, but many veterinarians donate their time to hours upon hours of spay/ neuter clinics that are either free or low cost to the public.  The challenge is in the supplies, space and anesthesia for these procedures.  If you know anything about a neuter, you may think it’s virtually costless if the veterinarian’s time is donated- and it certainly can be.  The challenge is when you’re looking at hundreds of animals.  We’re talking about shelter intake animals, catch and release ferrel programs, not to mention the numerous pet parents trying to afford to do the right thing.

I was proud as a member of the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA,) when they withdrew support of mandatory spay/ neuter legislation as a result of the opposition from member veterinarians.  (

As a veterinary professional, as a pet owner, as a concerned fancier and advocate for small animals I am generally in favor of spaying and neutering.  I believe that not many, but most pets should ultimately be altered.  I also believe that when the animal is altered needs to be a personal and private decision between pet owner and veterinarian.  Dog owners especially, are used to the many debates and research in the area of altering animals too early and the potential life-long health risks and side effects.  This is just one of the many reasons for the control to remain in the hands of the individuals.

We all know there are bad, irresponsible pet owners out there.  These are the people that leave poop in the neighborhood yards, with no consideration for the person who is dedicated to weeding and caring for that landscape or the children that play in the yard.  These are the people that don’t pay any attention to their dogs when interacting with others at dog parks or public areas, ultimately shutting these areas down for responsible dog owners.  These are the people whose unaltered cats litter neighborhoods with kittens and have no regard or even awareness for the consequence.

Unfortunately these people will always be there.  I believe that by offering education for those willing to listen perhaps negligence as a result of miseducations or in-awareness can be resolved.  That would then leave us with the smaller population of people that are going to serve themselves.  These people will operate outside any laws we establish or not, they are not the typical pet parent.

Order your plates today to help keep the government out of your home, out of your pet-parenting decisions and doing what they do best, collecting vehicle tax fees.


Our battle, Dogs vs. Cats, makes mainstream media

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Flipping the channels the other day on the t.v., I came across an title that grabbed my attention, Dogs Vs. Cats.  It was Animal Planet.  Apparently they are also posing the question this month, Which is better?  They broke the show into rounds/ categories and pitted the animals against each other.

Here are the seven categories in which the fur fighters were challenged:

  1. Companionship
  2. Athleticism
  3. Cleanliness
  4. Intelligence
  5. Beauty
  6. Expense
  7. History

Now, as with anything on mainstream t.v. or primetime, I caution the viewer to beware of the clear slants and biases in some categories.  I recall in one challenge, they didn’t even try to get a dog to do it, clearly a producer favored cats in that segment.

Another note of caution, for my veterinary health advocates/ professional friends, if you want to watch, you might want to close your eyes when they offer a cat 30 pounds of tuna and a dog 30 pounds of bacon.  Can we say acute pancreatitis (among other things?!)

For pure educational value, I would have to rate this one a bit low.  The build up and attempt at drama for the show outweighed animal safety or a true representation of the species.  However, if you can forgive the horrible antics, the bias/ slanted producing and enjoy the show, it’s a great opportunity to laugh at how the other half lives with and loves their pets.  There are some great statistics about dogs and cats including a bit of history about each and their relationships with humans.

In a world with 600 million cats and 400 million dogs, which side will you choose?

Who lives in your home?

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