Hot Summer Weather Brings Renewed Focus on Heartworm Disease and Prevention

Friday, July 1, 2022

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When the Indianapolis Star compiled a story about climate change and the incidence of heartworm infections, the newspaper turned to experts in the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine for information and insight about heartworm disease and prevention. The article by reporter Claire Rafford published June 21 referenced data suggesting that warmer weather conditions could be associated with an increase in heartworm cases, but also emphasized the effectiveness of preventive measures. 

The story explained that heartworm is a parasite that causes a pulmonary disease in pets like dogs, cats, and ferrets, and quoted Dr. Sriveny Dangoudoubiyam, assistant professor of parasitology in the college’s Department of Comparative Pathobiology, who pointed out that the disease also is present in wildlife, like wolves, coyotes, and sea lions. Noting that an animal can contract heartworm when it’s bitten by a mosquito that has heartworm larvae, the article explained how the larvae are deposited onto the skin and enter the body through the wound, then migrate through the blood and can develop into full-grown worms. “This process results in a serious disease that involves the lungs, heart, and also many other organs, and it can end up resulting in death of the animal,” Dr. Dangoudoubiyam was quoted as saying.

In regard to potential connections between heartworm disease and warmer weather, Dr. Dangoudoubiyam explained, “When we talk about climate, it’s important that we understand that anything that is related to major disasters like a hurricane, or major floodings, anything that can directly contribute to mosquito development… can all be factors for increased heartworm.”

The article also included comments from Dr. Lorraine Corriveau, primary care clinician with the Small Animal Primary Care Service at the Purdue University Veterinary Hospital. Dr. Corriveau said that heartworm affects the entire pulmonary artery vasculature, including the heart, but more so the lungs. She explained that, for dogs infected with heartworm, there are several different steps to treatment, including several types of drugs, steroids, and in acute cases, surgery. Any dog infected with heartworm will also be prescribed a heartworm preventive. However, for other animals, there are fewer treatment options, as the drugs used to treat dogs are not approved or recommended for cats or ferrets. 

Dr. Corriveau emphasized that prevention is key. “Just prevent it in your ferret and your cat, because it’s not good if they get it,” Dr. Corriveau was quoted as saying. The article added that, in general, heartworm prevention is highly encouraged for all pets. “Treatment is very expensive, compared to prevention,” Dr. Dangoudoubiyam told the paper.

Click here to read the complete article.

Writer(s): Purdue Veterinary Medicine News

Source: Claire Rafford, Indianapolis Star

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