Why Haven’t We Eliminated Heartworms Yet?
It’s been more than 150 years since a scientist discovered the heartworm parasite in dogs and more than 80 years since the parasite was found in cats. Still, each year hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats are diagnosed with this dreaded worm, and it is estimated that North American cases are actually in the millions. In all this time, why have we not found a way to combat and stop this plague?
What Is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is devastating to the pet’s health. Spread by mosquitoes, this parasite can grow close to 2 feet long and takes up physical space in the heart’s chambers and pulmonary artery. This means that the dog’s heart must work harder to push the same amount of blood out to the body. Early signs of this disease include fatigue and exercise intolerance, but later signs can include coughing, fluid accumulation in the lungs or abdomen and death.
For cats, the heartworm larvae prefer the lungs and can cause vomiting, asthma-like symptoms and even sudden death in some cases.
Not only is the pet harmed, but owners are affected as well. Heartworm treatments for small dogs can run in excess of $500, and costs for larger breeds might surpass $1,000. Sadly, the case might be worse for cats as there is no approved treatment for heartworms in our feline friends.
Preventive Heartworm Medications
Amazingly, we do have an answer to this problem. Safe, effective heartworm medications exist in a variety of easy to use applications. What’s even more incredible is that the cost of a lifetime of preventive for most pets is significantly less than a single treatment for the disease. So, why do pets continue to suffer and die from a preventable problem?
Two radical theories seen on the internet state that either the heartworm medications are failing or that the parasites are developing a resistance to the drugs. While conspiracy theorists may love these ideas, scientific evidence for both is lacking. Heartworm preventives have a failure rate of less than 1 in 1 million doses. Likewise, the complex life cycle of the heartworm does not lend itself to developing a natural resistance to medications.
Some people look to climate change for answers. Increasing temperatures mean a longer mosquito season and larger potential for transmission to pets. While we are seeing more mosquitoes in previously mosquito-free areas, the likely reasons are changes made by humans. Irrigation of dry areas and increased plantings of trees in certain locales can actually help a mosquito population. More mosquitoes mean more opportunities for transmission of heartworms.
When we review all the facts, the simplest reason for our failure to control this deadly parasite is simply that we don’t give the preventive as we should. Whether it’s forgetfulness or financial concerns, you must realize that you are on the front lines in this battle, and your actions could save your beloved pet from heartworm disease. If you have a difficult time remembering to dose your pet monthly, we have a shot that protects for six months.
Thankfully, as pet owners, you do have powerful allies in this war. We can help you pick the best heartworm medication for your pet and your lifestyle. If you have questions about heartworm disease, products or treatment, call us to schedule an appointment!