A leading animal health provider is urging dog owners in the USA to take an important first step towards heartworm testing and prevention by making an appointment with their pet’s veterinarian in April, which is National Heartworm Awareness Month.
The good news is heartworm, a potentially life-threatening disease, is easily preventable – but the bad news is most dogs are not receiving heartworm preventive therapy each month, according to Cristiano von Simson, DVM, MBA, director of veterinary technical services at Bayer Animal Health.
“Veterinarians are a dog’s best friend when it comes to preventing heartworm and other pathogenic internal parasites, like hookworms and whipworms,” said Dr. von Simson. “In fact, they are in the best position to evaluate the dog’s medical history and lifestyle and discuss the best plan to provide comprehensive internal parasite protection. Veterinarians can diagnose, dispense once-monthly heartworm preventives and, if necessary, treat the disease.”
According to Dr. von Simson, Bayer Animal Health will expand its efforts to educate consumers about the importance of regular veterinary care through a direct mail and email campaign in April that will reach nearly three million pet owners nationwide.
Caused by worms living in the heart and arteries of the lungs, heartworm disease can result in serious damage to these arteries, eventually leading to heart failure, and in severe cases, damage to other organs such as the liver and kidneys. The American Heartworm Society’s revised guidelines for the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of canine heartworm – issued in January 2012 – recommend annual heartworm screening (antigen testing) and year-round use of preventive therapy for all dogs. However, compliance for heartworm preventives is typically between eight and nine doses a year, which does not provide optimal protection, according to Dr. von Simson.
“Preventing heartworm requires 12 months a year of preventive therapy and it all begins in the veterinarian’s office,” said Wallace E. Graham, Jr., DVM, president, American Heartworm Society. “Veterinarians are experts on dog parasites, such as heartworm, and their ability to both prescribe and dispense preventives increases compliance. When pet owners leave their veterinarian’s office, it is essential that they leave with the medicine they need to protect their dogs from this serious disease.”
 American Pet Products Association, 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey, http://americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp; accessed March 14, 2012.
 American Heartworm Society, Heartworm Disease – A Serious Threat, http://www.heartwormsociety.org/media-room/background.html; accessed March 14, 2012.
 American Heartworm Society, Current Canine Guidelines for the Diagnosis, Prevention, and Management of Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) Infection in Dogs (revised January, 2012), http://www.heartwormsociety.org/veterinary-resources/canine-guidelines.html; accessed March 14, 2012.
 AllPoints Research 2011, data on file.