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Media Resources

The American Heartworm Society is the leading resource on heartworm disease, and our mission is to lead the veterinary profession and the public in the understanding of this serious disease. Every year, hundreds of stories are written on the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of heartworm, as well as on the plight of affected pets. These stories are an important way of reaching both veterinary professionals and pet owners with information they need to know about heartworm disease.

The American Heartworm Society is led by a board of directors comprised of veterinarians and specialists in the fields of veterinary parasitology and internalmedicine. As leaders in the fight against heartworm disease, they are available as resources and authors of related stories.

Members of the media are encouraged to contact the American Heartworm Society for information, visuals and interviews about heartworm disease. Please contact Sue O’Brien at Obriensuek@gmail.com or call 319-231-6129.

AHS Media Contacts

 

President: Dr. Stephen Jones
Lakeside Animal Hospital
615 East Main Street
Moncks Corner, SC 29461
stephen.jones@heartwormsociety.org

 

Secretary/Treasurer: Dr. Robert Stannard
Adobe Pet Hospital
1543 First Street
Livermore, CA 94550
robert.stannard@heartwormsociety.org

 

Immediate Past President: Dr. Wallace Graham
VCA Oso Creek Animal Hospital
7721 South Staples Street
Corpus Christi, TX 78418
wallace.graham@heartwormsociety.org

 

Editor: Dr. Doug Carithers
Merial Ltd
3239 Satellite Blvd. Bldg. 500
Duluth, GA 30096
doug.carithers@heartwormsociety.org

 

Vice President: Cristiano von Simson, DVM, MBA
Bayer Healthcare LLC
Animal Health
P.O. Box 390
Shawnee, KS 66201-0390
cristiano.von.simson@heartwormsociety.org

News Releases

Prevent Heartworms in Pets Year-Round

The FDA Joins The American Heartworm Society In Recommending That All Dogs And Cats, Including Indoor Pets, Be Placed On Year-Round Heartworm Preventatives.
October 2013, 2013

Early Mosquito Season, Unprotected Pets Produce Perfect Storm for Heartworm Disease

Guidelines Released from the American Heartworm Society Urge Year-Round Prevention
April 9, 2012

Heartworm Society Addresses Common Questions During American Heart Month

Guidelines Released from the American Heartworm Society Urge Year-Round Prevention
Feb. 14, 2012

AHS Revises Heartworm Prevention Guidelines, Launches ‘Think 12’ Campaign

Veterinary professionals can tap online resources to remind and educate clients about the value of heartworm prevention
January 31, 2012

New Survey Finds Heartworm Infection Nationwide

Veterinary experts troubled by high incidence of preventable disease
May 23, 2011

AHS Announces Findings of 2010 Heartworm Incidence Survey

Persistence of Heartworms Calls for Veterinary Vigilance About Protection
May 9, 2011

No Safe Haven From Heartworm

Survey finds heartworm nationwide
May 9, 2011

Heartworm Preventive Resistance: Is it Possible?

Washington Post, "Hints from Heloise" discusses heartworm prevention and The American Heartworm Society

Response letter from the American Heartworm Society.

CAPC & American Heartworm Society Sponsor Meeting on Heartworm Resistance Issues

September 7, 2010

New Canine Heartworm Guidelines Released

Febuary 15, 2010

Selected Milestone Events In Heartworm Disease

1963 Recommendations for the use of sodium caparsolate as an adulticide
1967 Recommendations for the use of DEC as a preventative
1969 Epidemiological surveys and heartworm distribution maps
1974 Began series of papers that led to a better understanding of feline heartworm disease
1974 Founding of American Heartworm Society at the Fourth Heartworm Symposium
1986 The use of ELISA antigen-detection tests for the diagnosis of canine heartworm disease
1987 Introduction of ivermectin as an oral monthly preventative
1991 Introduction of milbemycin as an oral monthly preventative
1993 The first report of "safety-net" (reach-back) activity of macrocyclic lactones
1995 Presentation calling attention to lack of compliance (clinic) of heartworm preventative
1995 The role of PIMs on the pathophysiology of feline heartworm disease
1995 The use of immunochromatographic antigen-detection tests for the diagnosis of canine heartworm disease
1997 Introduction of ivermectin for cats as an oral monthly preventative
1998 The use of antibody-detection test kits for the diagnosis of feline heartworm disease
1998 The adulticidal activity of monthly prophylactic doses of ivermectin
1999 Introduction of selamectin as a monthly topical preventative
2000-2004 The potential role of Wolbachia in the pathogenesis of canine and feline heartworm disease
2001 Introduction of long-acting moxidectin as an injectable
2001 American Heartworm Society begins collaboration with the Morris Animal Foundation to manage research funds for both feline and canine heartworm studies
2004 A comprehensive review of the zoonotic picture

Background Information

Heartworm Disease - A Serious Threat

(Wilmington, Delaware)

Since the first diagnosis of canine heartworm disease over one hundred years ago, heartworm infection has been widely recognized throughout the world as one of the major health problems affecting pets today.

Heartworm infection is caused by worms (Dirofilaria immitis) that may grow to be 14-inch-long adults. These adult worms live in the right side of the heart and the arteries of the lungs. Heartworm infection can cause serious damage to these arteries, eventually leading to heart failure, and in severe cases, damage to other organs such as the liver and kidneys. Dogs of any age and breed are susceptible to contracting heartworm disease.

While cats appear to be more resistant to heartworm infection than dogs, with fewer worms surviving into adulthood, they are still susceptible to infection and can also suffer from the effects of heartworm disease. However, they do not contribute significantly to spreading the infection.

Although the risk of heartworm infection varies from state-to-state, heartworm disease has been identified in all of the contiguous 48 states and Hawaii.

Heartworm Life Cycle

Heartworm infection is spread from animal to animal by mosquitoes. Dogs, cats, ferrets, coyotes, foxes, wolves, sea lions and even humans have all been found to be infected by heartworm. Adult female heartworms release their young, called microfilariae, into the animal's bloodstream. Mosquitoes then become infected with microfilariae while taking a blood meal from an infected animal. During the next 10 to 14 days, the  microfilariae mature to the infective larval stage within the mosquito. When the mosquito bites another dog, cat, or other susceptible animal, the infective larvae enter through the bite wound. In dogs, it then takes a little over six months for the infective larvae to mature into adult worms that may live for five to seven years in dogs. In cats, it takes about eight months to mature into adult worms that live from two to three years. Microfilariae cannot mature into adult heartworms without first passing through a mosquito.

Signs of Heartworm Disease

For both dogs and cats, clinical signs of heartworm disease may not be recognized in the early stages, as heartworms tend to accumulate gradually over a period of months and sometimes years and repeated mosquito bites. In dogs, recently infected animals may exhibit no signs of the disease, while heavily infected animals may eventually show clinical signs, including mild, persistent cough, reluctance to move or exercise, tiredness after only moderate exercise, reduced appetite, and weight loss.

Severe cases of the disease in dogs may lead to heart failure, most often recognized by a "swollen belly" caused by accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. "Caval Syndrome," a form of liver failure, is also a potential serious complication, causing dogs to become weak very rapidly and turning their urine dark brown. This is a life-threatening situation that prompts surgical removal of the worms.

Cats may exhibit clinic signs that are very non-specific, mimicking many other feline diseases. Chronic clinical signs include vomiting, gagging, difficulty breathing or rapid breathing, lethargy and weight loss. Infected cats may die acutely without allowing time for diagnosis or proper treatment.

Detecting Heartworm Infection

Detection of heartworm infection in apparently healthy animals is usually made with blood tests for  microfilariae or a heartworm substance called an "antigen," although neither test is consistently positive until about seven months after infection has occurred.

Diagnosis of heartworm infection may also be detected through x-ray and/or ultrasound images of the heart and lungs, although these tests are usually used in animals that are known to be infected.

Treatment

In dogs, most cases of advanced heartworm disease can be successfully treated with a drug called an adulticide that is injected into the muscle. A series of injections are given to dogs who have received a thorough examination to assess the risk of the treatment. Hospitalization is usually recommended during treatment, but treatment can also be performed on an outpatient basis. During the duration of the recovery period lasting one to two months, it is essential that exercise for the pet be limited to leash walking, decreasing the risk of partial or complete blockage of blood flow through the lungs by dead worms.

Dogs in heart failure and those with caval syndrome (a form of liver failure) require special attention. Reinfection is prevented by administering a heartworm preventative. Some also eliminate  microfilariae if they are present.

Currently, there are no products in the United States approved for the treatment of heartworm infection in cats. Cats have proven to be more resistant hosts to heartworm than dogs, and often appear to be able to rid themselves of infection spontaneously. In severe cases of the disease, veterinarians will treat an infected cat with supportive therapy measures.

Prevention

Although heartworm infection can cause serious complications in pets, it can be prevented. For dogs, there are a variety of options for preventing heartworm infection, including an injectable administered by your veterinarian that provides protection for six months, daily and monthly tablets and chewables, and monthly topicals. All of these methods are extremely effective and when the drugs are administered properly on a timely schedule, heartworm infection can be completely prevented.

In cats, there are four products currently approved to prevent heartworm infection; two oral medications and two topical medications. All four are virtually completely effective in preventing the development of adult heartworms when administered correctly.

Heartworm medications work by halting heartworm development before the adult worms reach the lungs and cause disease. Compared to the cost of treating an animal with mature adult heartworms, heartworm prevention is safe, easy and inexpensive.

Retesting

Periodic retesting is important for monitoring the success of any heartworm prevention program. It is recommended that pet owners discuss with their veterinarian what testing procedures are appropriate for their pet.

Founded during the Heartworm Symposium of 1974, the American Heartworm Society was formed to facilitate and encourage the generation and dissemination of information about heartworm disease and encourage adoption of standardized procedures for its diagnosis, treatment and prevention. The Society stimulates and financially supports research, which furthers knowledge and understanding of the disease. Its headquarters are located in Wilmington, Delaware.

Signs of Heartworm Disease

  • For both dogs and cats, clinical signs of heartworm disease may not be recognized in the early stages, as heartworms tend to accumulate gradually over a period of months and sometimes years and after repeated mosquito bites.
  • In dogs, recently infected animals may exhibit no signs of the disease, while heavily infected animals may eventually show clinical signs, including mild, persistent cough, reluctance to move or exercise, tiredness after only moderate exercise, reduced appetite, and weight loss.
  • Very active or working dogs can show the above clinical signs of disease with only a few worms present.
  • In dogs, severe cases of the disease may lead to heart and lung failure, most often recognized by a “swollen belly” caused by accumulation of fluid in the abdomen.
  • "Caval Syndrome," a form of liver failure, is also a potential serious complication, causing dogs to become weak very rapidly and turning their urine dark brown. This is a life-threatening situation that prompts surgical removal of the worms.
  • Cats may exhibit clinical signs that are very non-specific, mimicking many other feline diseases. Chronic clinical signs include vomiting, gagging, difficulty breathing or rapid breathing, lethargy and weight loss.
  • Infected cats may die acutely without allowing time for diagnosis or proper treatment.

Prevention Tips

  • There are a variety of options for preventing heartworm infection in both dogs and cats, including daily and monthly tablets and chewables and monthly topicals. All of these methods are extremely effective, and when administered properly on a timely schedule, heartworm infection can be completely prevented. These medications interrupt heartworm development before adult worms reach the lungs and cause disease.
  • In cats, there are three products currently approved to prevent heartworm infection, two oral medications and one topical medication.
  • Pet owners should discuss the proper product selection for their pet and dose timing with their veterinarian.

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RT @AHS_Think12: Mosquitoes transmit heartworms to your pet. The baby worms migrate from the bite site to the blood stream and then to the…

by Heartworm Society