Hello! My name is Chris Lutton and I’m one of the new doctors here at Columbia City Vet Hospital. I recently moved to Seattle from Kansas City. For the past four years I have worked in private practice as well as for a rescue organization in Kansas City. Being from the midwest, heartworm disease is seen on a fairly regular basis. While working for the rescue organization, we often treated several dogs with heartworm disease every day.
Since I’ve been in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve noticed a big difference in heartworm prevalence and the overall perception of heartworm disease. One of the main differences is in the decreased prevalence of heartworm disease in this area of the country. Below is the incidence map from the American Heartworm Society.
Currently, clinics in the Seattle area reported an average of 1-5 heartworm positive cases for the year 2016. The highest incidence is reported in the southern states and along the gulf coast. So compared to my neck of the woods, Seattle has a decreased prevalence of heartworm disease. Interesting to note, however, is how 2016 numbers compared to 2010.
You’ll notice how there is an increased incidence in almost every region of the country. This leads me to believe that several factors are likely causing the increase in incidence of heartworm disease. Possible factors include increased average temperatures, increased surveillance as well as an increasing number of pets from endemic areas moving here.
Is heartworm disease becoming more prevalent? Maybe.
So what is heartworm disease? Heartworms are a parasite that are spread via mosquito bite. The parasite lives within the blood vessels of an infected animal and reproduces. A mosquito needs to bite an infected dog and then bite a non-infected dog in order to transmit the parasite. Once the infected mosquito bites a new animal, the parasite spends the next couple months in the tissue before entering the bloodstream.
Once in the bloodstream, the heartworms travel to the heart and lungs. In this regard, the name heartworm is a bit of a misnomer, as the majority of the damage done in the early stages happens in the lungs. The worms cause a lot of inflammation and permanent damage to the vessels in the lungs within the first couple of weeks. The disease progresses gradually as more lung tissue is damaged and eventually it leads to heart disease and heart failure if left untreated.
Heartworm disease is treatable and easily preventable. Treatment for heartworm disease involves about six months of activity restriction, three injections of a drug called melarsomine that kills the heartworms, as well as some other medications. The whole course of treatment can easily exceed $1,000. Prevention is much simpler. There are several products available, both oral and topical, that kill the heartworms before they enter the bloodstream. These products are given on a monthly basis. In addition to preventing heartworm infections, many of the products protect against intestinal parasites as well as fleas.
During your annual wellness exam, we can discuss testing, different products available and what works best for your pet’s lifestyle. Generally, we recommend testing on an annual basis for pets on a heartworm preventative or before starting a preventative. The test can be done quickly at the clinic and requires a small blood sample.
That’s all for now. I look forward to meeting you all! Please contact us if you have any questions. I’ll leave you with a photo of my boys who are loving all the hiking we get to do here.