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The Ruff Report: Dogs and Health

Alarming rise in heartworm threatens 'beloved pets'

The number of heartworm cases in dogs has been rising across the United States for nearly a decade with the disease now being reported in all 50 states, a trend that health experts fear could ruin the quality of life or even lead to premature dead for many "beloved pets."

The survey of veterinary clinics, conducted every three years by the American Heartworm Society, has found a steady, gradual increase in the number of incidents in 2001, 2004 and 2007, the latest results available.

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“It’s important to understand all aspects of this preventable disease since it affects our beloved pets,” AHS President Sheldon Rubin states in a media release. “This survey is part of the American Heartworm Society’s role in maintaining vigilance on heartworm disease.”

In all but the most advanced cases, dogs usually can be treated with medication, but some pets can be left with permanent heart damage that can hamper their quality of life or even lead to premature dead.

The survey found the Delta, South-central and Southeast regions of the United States have the greatest incidence rate. The highest prevalence is in the Delta region, where many counties and parishes report 100 or more cases per clinic.

The survey found that the disease is becoming more common in the Northwest, especially in Oregon and Montana where large areas of the states that previously reported less than one dog diagnosed per clinic reported one to five or more dogs diagnosed per clinic in the 2007.

“These findings tell us that we in the veterinary profession need to do more to prevent heartworm disease in dogs," Dr. Rubin said. "As with all cases, education is the key to making a difference in the incidence rates.”

AHS, which has its headquarters in Batavia, Illinois, works with veterinarians to try to raise awareness among dog parents about the disease. Some of the society’s programs and activities include:
  • Heartworm University, an educational outreach program.
  • Developing canine and feline heartworm guidelines.
  • Providing incidence maps to veterinarians.
  • Offering education materials at nominal costs.
  • Providing the latest information and opinions on heartworm disease.
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  • Holding a triennial meeting. The next Heartworm Symposium, when scientists from throughout the world will gather to present their latest findings, is April 15 to 18, 2010, in Memphis, Tennessee.

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