Arizona Veterinary Medical Association reminds pet owners to be vigilant

With the beginning of a new mosquito season, the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association (AzVMA) is reminding pet owners to be aware about the risks of heartworm. The organization increased educational outreach efforts last month during Heartworm Awareness Month.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of heartworm-infected dogs in our practice. I have also talked to other veterinarians in Arizona who are also seeing more cases as well. We are recommending that all dogs be screened for this parasite and placed on prevention,” said Dr. Brian Serbin of Ingleside Animal Hospital, located in Phoenix.

Heartworm infection is a devastating illness that is seen primarily in dogs, but also affects cats and ferrets.  It is spread by mosquitoes that become hosts to the parasite by feeding on infected animals and then pass on larvae to other animals. Because mosquitoes get into our homes, even animals that are strictly indoors are at risk for heartworm disease. The infection results in worms, up to 14 inches long, living in the right side of the heart and arteries of the lungs. The worms damage the arteries, leading to heart failure.

The good news is that the disease is preventable with a variety of methods. Most of the products are either a liquid that is placed on the pet’s skin or an oral medication. Most provide protection for 30 days, so pets need to be re-dosed every month. The vast majority of pets don’t seem to mind getting their heartworm prevention, and many of them look forward to their monthly “treat”. It is recommended to have animals tested for heartworm disease prior to starting preventative medication.

In the past, heartworm was found primarily in climates prone to mosquito infestation and wasn’t an issue for pets living in Arizona. In the past 10 years, however, veterinarians here have seen more cases of heartworm, caused by a combination of more breeding areas for mosquitoes (such as golf courses, irrigation puddles, stagnant pools) and heartworm being introduced into the state by relocated and/or traveling pets. Coyotes, foxes and wolves are also carriers. According to the American Heartworm Society, many of the pets impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were shipped across the country for adoptions, and a significant number of these pets were infected with heartworm.

For more information, call the AzVMA at 602-242-7936.