Veterinarian Dr. Ernie Ward joined me on Friday to discuss simple ways we can keep our pets happy and healthy, and prevent diseases such as heartworm, roundworm and hookworm.
Candace Rose: What can we do to prevent the spread of heartworm disease?
Dr. Ernie Ward: "Heartworm disease is one of those deadly diseases that pet owners often forget about, right? It is transmitted by mosquito bites. The mosquito injects this tiny larva that crawls through the blood stream, winds up locating in the heart and lungs; grows up to be 14 inches long, and of course is deadly. So heartworm disease is something that we want to prevent, and it's as easy as giving a once a month preventive to your dog or cat."
Candace Rose: How can we control heartworm and other parasites?
Dr. Ernie Ward: "Well, again these heartworm preventives now, they have multiple uses. So I like to try to save my clients money, so I'll look for a product that takes care of heartworm disease- that's deadly, big trouble; fleas- nobody wants to deal with fleas, and intestinal parasites like roundworms and hookworms. You may not be aware of this, but you can get hookworms and roundworms. And I especially worry about small children, they're out in the yard and maybe the dog has an accident, the cat buries its waste; we've got to use a product that takes care of all of that. Once a month- they make oral tablets, people like giving their pets treats, so talk to your veterinarian and get one of these combination heartworm preventatives- once a month you're done."
Candace Rose: Can you tell us about the EPA warnings on some topical flea treatments?
Dr. Ernie Ward: "Right, this is all sort of breaking news. It happened last year, it began to happen; we're really expecting additional regulations this spring. What happened was last year a big flurry of new products came onto the market, so you could suddenly go to your pharmacist, your drugstore, your grocery store and you saw all these products. Well, people were misusing them. They began to put them on their cat- they put too much on their cat or whatever, especially kitty cats and small dogs. Nerve problems started happening, seizures; lots of deaths were reported, so the EPA came and put what they call a 'black box' warning on many of these products, and that's to draw your attention. But I say talk to your veterinarian, don't use the wrong product in the wrong fashion or else you may cause serious consequences."
Candace Rose: Is heartworm disease more prevalent in certain states than others?
Dr. Ernie Ward: "Well, sadly it's in all the contiguous U.S. In fact the only state where we haven't diagnosed heartworm disease is Alaska, so if you're in Alaska you can skip this part of the lecture. So, every state gets this problem, and it's because of mosquitoes. We have mosquitoes throughout the United States. Obviously heartworm disease is going to be more prevalent in warmer, wetter regions but it goes from Minnesota to Miami."
Candace Rose: Do you have any additional tips or information you'd like to share?
Dr. Ernie Ward: "I think the big message for me is see your vet. And I know in these lean economic times people are looking for ways to save money, but going, skipping these vet visits is not the right one. If I can diagnose a disease early, I can not only save that pets life and prolong its quality of life, I can save you money. So make sure you go see your veterinarian at least once a year; twice a year if you have a senior pet."
Candace Rose: And what are some symptoms we should look for in our pets?
Dr. Ernie Ward: "Well, symptoms of heartworm disease are often very difficult to determine. In fact you won't know your dog or cat has it until it's often too late. Signs of heartworm disease include coughing, exercise intolerance, maybe their appetite drops off; they can have a swollen abdomen, they can start coughing up blood- take home message is this is fatal if we don't treat it. The treatment for dogs is on back order, we've got drug shortages. There is no treatment for cats. We've got to prevent it."
Candace Rose: Where can we go for more information?
Dr. Ernie Ward: "I think a good website to start would be something like NoMoreHeartWorms.com. But instead of just going to the web, talk to your veterinarian. Ask them. If you have a cat, and your vet hasn't talked to you about heartworm disease, ask them about it. If you have a dog, say 'am I using the proper heartworm preventive."