UPDATE ON HEARTWORM DISEASE IN THE AFTERMATH OF HURRICANE KATRINA
This week I am taking a break from my usual question and answer format to address a potentially serious issue for pets.
In a previous column, I discussed Heartworm disease. Heartworm is a dangerous blood parasite of dogs and, less often, cats. The worms, as their name suggests, are parasites that live in the heart and arteries of pets. They can cause very serious illness, including heart failure and death. The disease is spread by mosquitoes.
Hurricane Katrina left thousands of dogs and cats homeless in New Orleans and other areas of the United States Gulf Coast. Many of them were rescued by volunteers and emergency personnel, sometimes after several weeks of fending for themselves on the streets. Large numbers of these animals have been adopted by kind people throughout the United States.
Heartworm disease is endemic (very common) along the Gulf Coast. The flooding caused by the storm created an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. Homeless pets stranded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina could not receive medications to prevent infestation with heartworm. Therefore, the pets (especially the dogs) rescued from the Gulf Coast are expected to have a very high rate of Heartworm disease.
In fact, every dog I have examined that was rescued from the Gulf Coast has tested positive for Heartworm disease. I have spoken to colleagues, and they have noticed similar results.
It is not certain that the importation of rescued animals will increase the incidence of Heartworm disease in any area. However, if you live in a region, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, where large numbers of rescued animals are now living, I strongly recommend you discuss Heartworm prevention for your pet with your veterinarian.
Medications that prevent Heartworm disease are reliable and convenient to administer, usually on a once monthly basis. Side effects are extremely uncommon, and the medications will help ensure that your pet is protected against this serious disease.