Petscene: Global warming affecting pet health? |

Petscene: Global warming affecting pet health?

special to the daily
Special to the Daily

SUMMIT COUNTY ” It is estimated that pet owners spent more than $36 billion on their pets in 2006. Yet, despite all the medical care, toys, special diets and other accessories, many dogs still fall victim to a disease that can easily be prevented.

Canine heartworm disease continues to prove deadly to dogs across the United States. And it may be that the warming of our planet is contributing to the spread of the disease.

Canine heartworms are spread by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes require warmth and humidity to survive, reproduce and continue transmitting heartworm. Mosquito-borne diseases are often considered “tropical”; however, these diseases are now showing up in non-tropical areas. Heartworm disease has been found in every state including Alaska. The most affected states are Florida, Texas and Louisiana.

Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, also likely contributed to the spread of heartworm disease. Many dogs from Louisiana were scattered across the United States during the disaster and Louisiana dogs that were already infected with heartworm acted as reservoirs. If a mosquito bit an infected dog, it could then transmit the disease to a local dog.

In a 2004 survey of veterinary clinics across the United States, more than 250,000 dogs were reported diagnosed with heartworm disease. (And that only counted animals who were receiving veterinary care.) Veterinarians believe there are a large number of undiagnosed animals and that the total number of infected dogs is closer to half a million.

There are almost no outward signs of heartworm disease until it is very advanced. Most dogs have no symptoms and the disease is only found through a blood test. In advanced cases there may be coughing, decreased willingness to exercise or labored breathing.

A blood test is required before starting heartworm prevention medications. This will ensure that the pet is not currently infected with heartworms. Taking the preventive medication when an animal is already infected can be deadly.

Because this disease is entirely preventable, it is important that owners are educated about it. There are several heartworm preventives on the market, both oral and topical. Although all products are safe and effective in preventing heartworms, the president of the American Heartworm Society urges pet owners not to switch products without first discussing the change with their veterinarian.

Heartworm disease is a concern for all pet owners. See your family veterinarian for a blood test and preventive medication. Visit to view a video with more information on heartworms.

Silverthorne veterinarian Gretchen Norton can be reached at

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