A recent paper published in Frontiers of Veterinary Science has revealed a concerning finding: Less than 40% of dogs in the longitudinal Golden Retriever Lifetime Study were on preventive heartworm medications at baseline. This is a troubling discovery, as heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition that is preventable in dogs.
Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis, which is transmitted by mosquitoes. The worms can grow up to a foot long and live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of infected animals, causing damage to these organs and other health problems. Heartworm disease can affect dogs, cats and other mammals, but dogs are the most common hosts.
The best way to prevent heartworm disease is to give dogs a monthly preventive medication that kills the immature worms before they can mature and cause harm. There are several types of heartworm preventives available, such as oral tablets, topical solutions and injectable products. These medications are safe and effective when given as directed by a veterinarian.
Why are some dogs not on heartworm prevention?
The paper, funded by Morris Animal Foundation and conducted by researchers at Lincoln Memorial University, investigated what factors predict heartworm preventive medication use in the golden retrievers in the Study cohort. The team unearthed critical factors associated with a reduced likelihood of dogs being on heartworm prevention, including:
- Dogs in the highest quartile of height
- Sexually intact dogs
- Dogs receiving supplements
Conversely, dogs receiving other vaccines or diagnosed with an infectious disease or an ear, nose, or throat health condition during their health checkups in the last year were likelier to receive heartworm preventives.
Dr. Lauren Wisnieski, Associate Professor of Public Health and Research at Lincoln Memorial University and the study’s principal investigator, emphasized the scarcity of studies examining the prevalence of prophylactic use in dogs. She said this recent project is especially crucial as climate change has extended mosquito season in certain states, making year-round vigilance imperative.
What are the implications of this study?
The study highlights the need for more education and awareness among dog owners and veterinarians about the importance of heartworm prevention. According to the American Heartworm Society, more than one million dogs in the United States are estimated to have heartworm disease, and the incidence is increasing in many areas.
The study also provides valuable data for future research on the factors that influence heartworm preventive use and adherence, as well as the potential impact of heartworm disease on the health and longevity of golden retrievers and other breeds.
The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is one of the largest and most comprehensive studies of its kind in veterinary medicine. It follows more than 3,000 golden retrievers throughout their lives to identify the genetic, environmental and nutritional risk factors for cancer and other diseases. The study is expected to provide insights that will benefit not only dogs, but also humans, as many canine diseases have similarities to human conditions.
How can dog owners help?
Dog owners can help prevent heartworm disease by following these steps:
- Consult with their veterinarian about the best type and schedule of heartworm preventive for their dog
- Give their dog the preventive medication every month, all year round
- Have their dog tested for heartworm infection annually
- Avoid exposure to mosquitoes by keeping their dog indoors during peak mosquito hours and using repellents or screens
- Support research efforts like the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study that aim to improve the health and well-being of dogs