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Leading off: Heartworm disease's long-term effects


An overview of the highlights from the revised American Heartworm Society's canine and feline guidelines.

As a veterinarian practicing in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, I deal with heartworm-positive patients nearly every day. Consequently, I've taken a special interest in the long-term effects of heartworm disease. Over the past six years, I have studied necropsy results from dozens of canine and feline patients that either had an active heartworm infection at the time of death or had been treated for heartworm disease during their lifetime.

Stephen Jones, DVM

My study taught me what many pet owners and veterinarians don't realize—that heartworm infection leaves lasting damage and affects patients' health and quality of life long after the parasites themselves are gone. These serious and lasting changes occur in dogs that have been treated as well as in cats that have eliminated heartworms on their own.

This insight prompted me to become involved in the work of the American Heartworm Society (AHS). Day in and day out, our message to the veterinary profession—as well as to pet owners—is that all pets susceptible to infection should receive heartworm preventives year-round.


I became president of AHS during the 14th Triennial Heartworm Symposium in September of 2013. During that meeting, we gained a number of new insights into the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of Dirofilaria immitis infection, which prompted a revision of AHS' canine and feline guidelines. Highlights include:

  • Increased emphasis on heartworm prevention and its value in the face of resistance

  • New recommendations for both antigen and microfilaria testing

  • Novel understanding of antigen-antibody complexes that interfere with testing

  • Significance of administration of doxycycline and macrocyclic lactones prior to adulticide therapy

  • Additional differential diagnoses for heartworm disease in cats

We continue to learn more about heartworm disease every day, but we have known for a long time is that it is one of the most common—and preventable—diseases that threatens our patients. By keeping up-to-date on the disease, educating clients, and recommending year-round prevention, we can make a difference. Download the revised guidelines at heartwormsociety.org/veterinary-resources/canine-guidelines.html.

Stephen Jones, DVM, practices at Lakeside Animal Hospital in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. He will be president of the AHS through September 2017.

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