By Stephanie Rebman/NEMS Daily Journal
Imagine a bowl of angel hair pasta inside your pet’s tiny heart.
That’s what it looks like when your dog or cat has heartworms. And the worms will eventually take over the heart.
Now that it’s winter, many pet owners will discontinue use of heartworm and flea and tick preventatives. However, given Mississippi’s climate and the fact there is a shortage of the medicine that kills adult heartworms, veterinary clinics are emphasizing year-round prevention.
On average, a heartworm preventative that also will get rid of other worms if they enter your pet’s body costs about the same as a six pack of beer or a fast-food value meal.
For example, the popular Heartguard Plus is about $6 a month for a 50-100 pound dog. The popular Interceptor for a 10-pound cat also winds up around $6 a month. One product, Sentinel, kills both worms and fleas. It runs around $14 for a 50-100 pound dog.
Tupelo Small Animal Hospital’s Dr. Stephen King currently is rallying his clinic in a “year-round prevention program.”
“Come December, January, they’ll say mosquitoes (which carry the infection) are gone,” he said. “But, your house is environmentally controlled. It’s highly recommended and to your advantage to use a heartworm preventative.”
According to the American Heartworm Society, there are approximately 26-50 cases of heartworm infection reported annually at each vet clinic in Northeast Mississippi, but many infections go unreported.
They also say 64 percent of dogs leave their vet clinic without heartworm prevention.
“Compliance is the problem,” King said.
For the past year, complicating treatment for veterinarians is the availability of Immiticide, the drug that kills heartworms. Therefore, King and his clinic have had to simply give monthly prevention chewables until heartworms eventually die, which could take months.
“We have opted for the slow-kill method,” he said. “It is not in the best interest of the patient. It’s not the best option, but it’s the only option we have right now. It’s better than doing nothing.
“The American Heartworm Society advocated not to do slow-kill because you are allowing a host to continue to have heartworms. The sooner you kill the heartworms the better for the community of dogs and felines.”
All it takes is for one dog sitting outside that has heartworms to get bit by a mosquito. That mosquito goes to the next yard and bites another dog and it is likely infected – unless it’s on prevention.
According to Steve Dickinson, head of corporate communications with Merial, the marketer of Immiticide, relief is on its way for veterinarians and the four-legged.
“The supplier discontinued production and we have been scrambling to find a supplier,” he said of Immiticide. “FDA approval was lost to produce the active ingredient last year.”
Now there is another company temporarily approved by the FDA and it’s producing the medicine. Dickinson said the OK arrived about a month ago and Merial is sending out treatment to vets who contact the company.
“We are trying to do everything we can,” he said. “This is definitely a problem, particularly for shelters,” who often wind up with stray dogs loaded with heartworms.
Eventually, if heartworms are not treated, King said a dog can become “exercise intolerant.” After that, the worms will cause congestive heart failure. It can even become so far advanced it turns into vena caval syndrome, King said.
“Heartworms cause damage to the valves and muscles of the animal’s heart,” he said. “And it maintains a source for neighborhood dogs.
“Year-round prevention is the key. I’m a real firm believer in preventative medicine versus treatment. Preventative medicine is better as far as everyone is concerned.”