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Sherry’s Corner » The Human Side of Heartworm Disease

The Human Side of Heartworm Disease

      A Millville cat suddenly faints and then dies in an upstairs hallway.  A nursing home mascot in Orangeville dies of cardiomyopathy.  A Bloomsburg Spaniel suddenly develops pneumonia.  All of these episodes might be the result of the silent deadly disease which involves a parasitic round worm!  Heartworm lives in the body and is carried by an infected mosquito; the bite can occur outside during a walk or in the livingroom, while the unwitting victim is taking a nap. 

      Heartworm has been counted in a positive number of cases of parasite activity in Columbia County–part of a county cluster which includes Union and Northumberland counties. In fact, .34% of all positive cases of heartworm in Pennsylvania occur in each of these counties. (Parasite Prevalence Maps).  It could be even higher.  The killer parasite can live seven or more years without detection in the heart and/or lungs, and/or in other blood vessels.   

      In a recent meeting of the American Heartworm Society monthly medications designed to prevent heartworms were questioned as being ineffective. Some believe mosquitoes have become immune to preventative drugs while others blame owners for not following dosing directions.  “Every month means every 30 days,” stresses Dr. Betsy Sigmon in an AKC Canine Health Foundation podcast. 

      But beware–the consequences of giving preventative medication when the dog or cat has heartworm can be deadly, too. Thus, American Heartworm Society president Dr. Wallace Graham suggests a heartworm test be part of the annual checkup.  Unfortunately, veterinarians  also note that there are false positives in testing.  And more extensive testing is expensive–as high as $1,000.  Owners are urged to compare and to weigh the risks and costs of all further testing and be aware that testing costs can vary from hospital to hospital.

      The human side of choices and decisions is made more agonizing since the drug used to treat heartworm is now in short supply if found at all and there is no treatment for cats. And so if a pet coughs, loses weight, and/or becomes lethargic, the possibility of it being a symptom of heartworm adds to health worries.  Could a diagnosis be death?  Unfortunately, here there are only grey areas since heartworm mimics other health problems which can involve not just the heart, but the liver and kidneys and of course–blood clots in the lungs–each symptom adding to owner stress.  Now is not the time to turn to the internet or to friends.  It is time to schedule an appointment with the veterinary hospital.

      And, it must also be remembered that this silent disease is a growing problem for shelters and rescues as well as those wanting to adopt and/or purchase a new pet. Who knows if the new pet has heartworm?  Conclusion: Sadly, there is a  human side to heartworm disease that involves not just cost but agonizing choices, the stress of an unknown future with a beloved companion and sometimes guilt. Pet owners must have a heartworm conversation with their pet’s veterinarian. 

Mar 25, 2012 | | Uncategorized

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