Heartworms, and heartworm infections are a growing health concern in US pets. While lack of proper preventative is the single most common reason for heartworm infection in companion pets, an isolated strain of drug-resistant heartworms is an emerging threat in the South and Southeast.
The American Heartworm Society, which is the governing board that studies heartworms and makes recommendations to the veterinary community has changed its testing recommendations for veterinarians. In a change announced in the March 15 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association, the Heartworm Society has recommended a change to its long-standing annual testing protocol. They have called for the addition of an additional test to help veterinarians more accurately assess the heartworm status of your pets.
All current in-house heartworm tests test for an antigen that is released by adult female heartworms. This test cannot detect male or juvenile female worms. The new test, unfortunately does not address this issue. Instead the new test, which is a simple test that your veterinarian can perform without any additional equipment and at no to minimal cost to clients, looks for circulating microfilaria in the blood stream. Microfilaria are circulating 'baby' heartworms. When these are circulating through your pet's blood stream they indicate they your pet is now spreading heartworms to others through mosquito bites.
Recommendations for pets who have been off of prevention or who have never had prevention call for a heatworm tests as well as microfilari screening prior to starting prevention, 6 months after starting, 6 months after that and then annually. This is also the recomendation for dogs changing to another form of heartworm prevention.
These new protocols are designed to try to address not only the growing prevalence of heartworm positive pets, but also the spread of heartworm into areas where it does not currently exist. All canids are potential carriers of this disease and as heat islands trap more heat in the cities, the risks of longer and more aggressive heartworm seasons exist.
Prevention is a far better and more effective goal than treatment after the fact. Treatment for heartworms can be serious, expensive and potentially life-threatening. In a cat, even a small heartworm burden can cause respiratory distress and death.
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