2006-06-08 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets...

Pets of the Week
by Joanne Anderson

Paws, tabby Paws, tabby If you love your pooch with all your heart, your pooch should be on heartworm preventative. Too many dog owners ignore this silent killer spread by mosquitoes. Global warming might be stretching our mosquito season, since the American Heartworm Society reports that heartworm infection is on the rise. A survey of 12,000 US clinics in 2004 found a quarter of a million cases. The Society estimates that about 27 million of the nation's 61.5 million dogs are not on monthly preventatives, so the potential for undetected heartworm infections could be in the millions.

Katrina didn't help matters either. The life cycle of heartworm is complicated and insidious. About 60% of the Katrina rescued dogs were heartworm positive, not because of the hurricane, but because they lived in a warm, wet climate and were either strays or had never been tested or put on the monthly meds. Veterinarians soon realized that relocating these dogs all over the country posed an unexpected risk to the new owners' dogs. They had to rethink the traditional treatment. A health protocol was

Pets of

Paws, tabby

Star, female German Shepherd

Star, female purebred German Shepherd Star, female purebred German Shepherd developed to treat the Gulf area dogs immediately after diagnosis in a way that would limit the chance that they would carry the larvae that could infect other dogs via mosquitoes. The underlying heartworm disease in the refugee dogs would be addressed a little later.

To simplifyit takes at least 2 dogs and 1 mosquito for full blown heartworm. The lifecycle of the heartworm begins when an infected dog carrying immature heartworm larvae (microfilariae) in its blood is bitten by a mosquito. The mosquito takes in these microfilariae when she feeds. During the next 2 to 3 weeks the larvae develop into the infective stage. When this mosquito bites again, she can inject infective larvae into a healthy dog. The larvae penetrate the dogs' skin and travel through the tissues. As they develop over the next few months, they eventually reach the dog's heart where they can grow into adult heartworms up to 14 inches long, damaging the heart, lungs, and possibly other organs. If left untreated, the dog will die. Meanwhile the female heartworm in this infected dog produces thousands

of new microfilariae

each day which

Week can infect other dogs.

Unfortunately most heartworm afflicted dogs do not show any symptomscoughing or labored breathinguntil the condition is advanced. Preventatives given to a heartworm positive dog can be harmful and are not a cure. Therefore, your dog needs a blood test to make sure he is heartworm free before you start the monthly pills. A filtration test looks for microfilariae and an occult test checks for adult worms in the heart. There are several kinds of monthly medicines like Interceptor and Heartguard which protect against intestinal

parasites too. On LI, we

used to stop the pills for female purebred

the winter. However, Shepherd

many local vets now recommend year round pills plus a blood test once every 2 years.

Heartworm can be treated but it is expensive and has some risks. Preliminary tests, such as x-rays, are required to see how far the disease has progressed. The treatment is a 2 front attack over several monthsfirst injections of an arsenic-like compound to kill the adult worms and later medicine to rid the blood stream of microfilariae. Immiticide, the new adulticide, is safer than the old arsenic drug, but the dogs still must be kept calm and supervised closely after treatment because, as the worms die, they can travel to the lungs and cause a fatal pulmonary embolism, especially if the dog had a severe infestation. Follow up testing is needed to be sure the dog is clear.

Lots of folks I speak to at low cost vaccine clinics seem to be either unaware or confused about heartworm. Many erroneously think that their topical flea liquid or an intestinal "worming" protects their dog. Others say their dog stays indoors. Mosquitoes do come in the house.

I zero in on the needy and neglected dogs as Last Hope rescues so I'm reluctant to print the following statistic because Joanne the Jinx, as I'm now called, strives to encourage everyone to adopt from town pounds. Here goes: in the last six months, 2 out of 3 of the dogs I've taken from a shelter were heartworm positive. Both were young dogs with tricky, occult cases, both have been treated successfully, via a long, costly process. Heartworm is out there, and is a disease where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Make your dog's blood test appointment today.

Star", the featured poster pup this week, comes from German Shepherd Rescue. This young, spayed, purebred German shepherd was found as a very thin stray. She loves people and is good with other dogs, but not cats at this time. She could become an ideal pet with some training. A breed experienced home is preferred. Call 801-3434.

 "Paws", the personality plus tabby is still available at Oyster Bay Shelter (677-5784) Miller Place Syosset. This agreeable cat (#06205) welcomes all visitors from her cage in the lobby but she desperately needs a home because she has been at the shelter a long time and is in competition now with the many babies of kitten season. See more photos on the Oyster Bay Petfinder site including: "Sophia" #060394a white American Bulldog; "Buddy" #060480a purebred Siberian husky (also not good with cats), and "Bucky" #060335the handsome white cat with one blue eye and one green eye.

Rain dateThe Last Hope Dog Walk/ Fun Night BBQ at Wantagh Park has been rescheduled for this Sat. 6/10. Registration begins at 4 PM. $20 per dog and handler, $5 additional per dog and handler. Call 516-486-3158 or 631205-5069.

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