American Heartworm Society Shares Heartworm Facts During “Adopt a Shelter Dog” Month Recent hurricanes heighten need for adoption and education

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Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have heightened the need for dog adoption, just in time for Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month in October. The American Heartworm Society encourages dog adoption along with important facts on the prevention and treatment of heartworm disease--a serious disease with above-average incidence in Texas and Florida.

In the wake of August and September’s hurricanes in Texas and Florida, which are adding to the numbers of shelter pets needing homes, the American Heartworm Society is urging better understanding of one of the more serious diseases that can affect pets: heartworm disease.

The American Heartworm Society (AHS) is encouraging families and individuals to adopt dogs during Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month in October. In the wake of August and September’s hurricanes in Texas and Florida, which are adding to the numbers of shelter pets needing homes, the organization is also urging better understanding of one of the more serious diseases that can affect pets: heartworm disease.

Heartworm disease is both common and misunderstood, says veterinarian Dr. Brian DiGangi, who serves on the AHS board of directors and is also Senior Director of Shelter Medicine for the ASPCA. “While a heartworm-positive test shouldn’t preclude pet adoption, the fact that states like Texas and Florida have above-average rates of heartworm infection adds to the reasons why prospective pet adopters should know the facts about heartworm disease and understand the steps to helping a heartworm-positive dog.”

Following are facts from the AHS for prospective adopters:

  •     Heartworms are spread by infected mosquitoes. The deadly parasites cannot be transmitted directly from dog to dog, or from infected dogs to cats. Instead, they are spread by mosquitoes that bite infected dogs and later bite other pets. Once a mosquito bites an infected dog, it has the potential to infect unprotected pets in a radius of approximately a mile.
  •     Heartworms are a nationwide threat—but are almost 100% preventable. While heartworm disease is especially prevalent in southern states, where mosquitoes are present year-round, heartworms have been diagnosed in all 50 states. Whether an adopted dog comes from Texas, Florida or any other state, keeping him or her on year-round heartworm prevention following adoption is vital.
  •     Heartworm disease can and must be treated in dogs. Many compassionate owners are willing to adopt dogs with heartworm infection, and fortunately these dogs can be treated. Owners, however, need to work closely with both their adopting shelters and their veterinarians in order to protect the new pet and other pets in the vicinity that may be unprotected. Owners should also be aware that heartworm treatment may take several months and require multiple veterinary visits.
  •     Timely heartworm testing is essential. Most shelters test dogs for heartworm disease and inform new owners of their dog’s heartworm status prior to adoption. If the test is negative but it’s unknown whether the dog was on heartworm prevention prior to entering the shelter—a frequent scenario—retesting dogs approximately six months post-adoption is recommended, just to be sure the dog is heartworm-free. Heartworm infections take approximately six months to trigger a positive result on a heartworm test, so a dog that was recently infected might not test positive in the shelter. Moving forward, annual heartworm testing is sufficient.

“While heartworm disease is a serious disease in dogs, the good news is that it can be prevented—and, if necessary, treated,” says Dr. DiGangi. “We encourage dog adopters to take advantage of Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month, and visit heartwormsociety.org to learn more about heartworm prevention, diagnosis and treatment.”

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Sue O'Brien
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