A US study has revealed a concerning finding: less than 40 per cent 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.
The study, conducted by researchers at Lincoln Memorial University, Tennessee—and published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science—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 and 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 check-ups in the last year were likelier to receive heartworm preventives.
Dr Lauren Wisnieski, the study’s principal investigator, emphasised 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.
Heartworm larvae are deposited onto a dog’s or cat’s skin during a mosquito bite, where they undergo maturation, sometimes for several months. Despite advances in understanding heartworm disease, including improved diagnostic tests and safer, more effective treatments, heartworm disease remains a significant health threat for pets in all 50 states.
Heartworms can grow to a foot long and cause lasting damage to the heart, lungs and other organs. While treatment is possible, it can be financially costly for the owners and often means a long recovery, if successful, for the pet.
“This data can help inform how veterinarians talk to clients,” Dr Wisnieski said.
“It can also help identify populations that have risks of nonadherence. Prevention is a cheaper alternative to the financial burden of treating heartworm disease later.”