Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Astonishing Secrets - Heartworm Disease and Prevention for dogs in Wollongong

"My breeder told me that I didn't need to do that" exclaims the pet owner when asked on what Heartworm prevention she had chosen for her English Pointer.

The look on this pet owner's face when I went through the discussion about Heartworm disease, and how important it was to maintain ongoing preventive medication, said it all.

This pet owner was always going to believe her breeder over a veterinarian.  Fortunately, this pet owner did find a veterinarian who didn't have a problem with that position, and that vet wasn't me.

With every pet owner we see, we discuss preventative care, and ensure that all pets are on a reasonable, appropriate care program.  I will try to respect an owners decision if they choose not to do something, so long as they are making an informed decision, and equally, accept the responsibility of the decision that they have made. (well, it is more complex than this, but I do try to be understanding of differing points of view).

What are some of the other reasons why pet owners don't have their pet on Heartworm Prevention?

"The person at the pet shop said that the tablet does everything" (it didn't, it was just an intestinal worming tablet only)
"I'm not sure"
"The other half does it"
"The other vet took care of it all"
"We are on nothing"
"Isn't that part of the worming tablet each three months"
"It had something as a puppy but not since"

 Let me share with you the story of Star. 

 Star is the reason why we ask EVERY pet owner about Heartworm prevention.   In those days (around 1999-2000), we didn't ask the questions of pet owners that we ask today.  We had seen Star for a few years for his vaccinations, but in those days, the annual Heartworm injection was not available. 

One day, Star started coughing badly, and at that time, Dr Scott, who was part of our vet team, performed a quick and easy Heartworm test.

The Heartworm test in those days involved taking a small blood sample, and then doing a few easy steps, adding a few drops of this and that, and then waiting for the colour change to occur.  These days, it is a drop of blood, two minutes - and voila!

Sadly, Star's result confirmed that he was infected with the adult Heartworm. This required a hospital stay, and the administration of painful injections into his back muscles to kill off the adult worms.  He then had to stay very still and quiet for 30 days whilst the worms died off.  As the worms died in his heart, they would break up, and release themselves through the blood stream, with the potential to cause a severe thromboembolic episode (and thus, severe respiratory distress).

Star was very very sick throughout this, and was lucky to survive this stage of his treatment.

The next phase of the treatment involved the killing of the microfilaria (the babies of the adult heartworm) - these are what  the mosquitoes pick up in their mouth parts during their feed.  Once they are in the mouthparts, they then mature to become "infective larvae", which can then infect another dog when the mosquito bites another pet a few weeks later. 

Microfilaria do not like to be killed off.  They are, in fact, very upset.  I know this for a fact.  After all, they do a "dummy spit", and try to kill the dog through anaphylactic shock.

Despite the struggle of treating this Heartworm infection,  Star made a full recovery....

but his owner had said to me at the end of it
 " If you had told me about Heartworm prevention, we would've had Star on it".  

Essentially, I was told that it was my fault that Star was infected, because no vet (including us) had discussed this very important disease with his owner.  Star was much loved by his elderly owners, and they would've done everything, and did everything, they needed to do to give him a good life.
I hated being told that it was my fault that Star
was infected!  Not a happy vet! 

Since then, I vowed that I would never have a pet owner say to me " Its your fault that I didn't know about Heartworm".

As you can see by the list at the beginning of my blog, you can tell that we are told everything else other than "You didn't tell me".  Whilst some owners are very offended (to the point of never coming back),  or skeptical (because they think we are trying to upsell them Heartworm prevention), they are the minority.

The majority of pet owners are thankful, and understand, that we always have their pet's welfare at heart.  Always!

I am sad to admit that I remember the days of having two to three Heartworm positive dogs in the veterinary hospital I first worked at (when I was a new graduate).  Most would die from severe liver and kidney failure as a result.  The treatment in those days was thiacetarsemide, which was arsenic based, administered intravenously.

Since I am going on my trip down memory lane, even as a vet student, a quarter of the pound dogs that we used as part of our Anatomy labs, had the spaghetti looking worms in the heart - as this is what Heartworm look like.

Fortunately, it is not as common a problem as it used to be - and this is how it should be!  

We are in a society of animal lovers, who are in a position to be able to afford and be willing to administer medications to our pets to keep them healthy and happy.
We love our animals, don't we! 

One of the sad parts of the current generation, is that many have never experienced the horrible diseases that used to exist - us older animal lovers have been too good - so good that  some of the younger pet owners have never seen an infected dog cough up blood, or the acute respiratory distress of thromboembolic disease.

So should your pet be on Heartworm prevention?


You are preventing your pet from becoming infected, and your pet deserves that.

The only time you should stop prevention, is when you know that every single Mosquito has been obliterated from our environment.  Whilst the mosquito exists, so does the risk of Mosquito borne disease - of which Heartworm is one!

If your pet is currently on Heartworm prevention - your pet thanks you!   You are doing the best you can to keep them away from disease.

If your pet is not on Heartworm prevention, then take this as a wake up call, and get this fixed up ASAP.

It's easy enough to do - we just take a blood sample, get it tested on site (only takes a few minutes), and if the result is "below detectable limits" aka "negative", then you can start your pet on Heartworm prevention straight away.

Call us on 42845988 or book online for your pets blood test.

I am Dr Liz, the mad vet from Bellambi.  Any questions or thoughts on Heartworm prevention in your pet, then please ask.