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Article about heartworm...FYI

October 12th, 2009, 02:24 PM
A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases

Date: Sat 10 Oct 2009
Source: [edited]

Rescued Katrina dogs trigger heartworm epidemic
According to the Hamilton Academy of Veterinarian Medicine (HAVM) in
Canada, a "huge increase" in heartworm disease in dogs -- 10 times the
normal in 2008 -- threatens to reach epidemic proportions and will take
years to curtail. The prime reason is abandoned dogs imported from
Louisiana into Canada by the Hamilton SPCA [Society For The Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals] after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 The dogs had been
inadequately tested, and carried the disease, which is spread by mosquitoes.

What started as a humanitarian gesture, importing Louisiana dogs, has
become a fixture with humane societies in Southern Ontario -- St
Catharines, Niagara Falls, Welland, Fort Erie, and even Cambridge and
Guelph. These dogs were sent to adoptive homes across America and parts of
Canada, and if the Hamilton experience is reflected in the US, a massive
increase in heartworm seems inevitable -- a terrible, costly, fatal disease
if untreated.

Last year [2008] some 600 dogs from Louisiana reached the Hamilton SPCA,
most under 8 months old that have nothing to do with hurricane season. The
puppies, billed as being "rescued", were sold for adoption by the Hamilton
SPCA for CAD 470 [USD 451] each. Most of the imported dogs are supplied by
the Louisiana dog rescue firm of BARK (Bordeaux Animal Rescue Krewe), which
now gets dogs from across the Southern states, which is prime heartworm

A respected veterinarian, Dr Randy Stirling of Hamilton's Briarwood Animal
Hospital, says he was "absolutely shocked" that puppies are being imported
from the southern US: "I don't know how it can be justified." There's no
shortage of stray dogs and cats in Canada -- always a concern because so
many get "euthanized" rather than adopted. Dr Stirling recalled a meeting
of Hamilton vets accidentally discovering the alarming rise of heartworm in
dogs last year [2008]. "Some 32 veterinarians in the Hamilton area used to
see an average of about 5 cases of heartworm a year," he says. "Last year
it jumped to 37 cases."

Further examination found that 45 of 63 heartworm cases around Hamilton
were dogs that had been imported from Louisiana and the southern US. 18
owner declined to have their dogs treated -- "too expensive". These 18
dogs, if bitten by mosquitoes, are an immediate threat to other dogs, and
all will die horrible deaths if untreated.

Jim Sykes, who recently resigned as CEO of the Hamilton SPCA and this week
[week of 5 Oct 2009] was appointed to the newly created job of chief
operating officer of the Ontario SPCA, said Hamilton "piggy-backed" on the
US program to have Katrina dogs adopted. Hamilton chose to be a partner
with BARK rescue because it "invests heavily in testing, treatment, and
care of animals." Last May [2008] he was quoted in the Hamilton Spectator
saying "overpopulation" of dogs in urban areas is generally under control,
which justified importing Louisiana dogs. Sykes says adoptions doubled from
1600 to 3200.

Dr Stirling is unconvinced. That Hamilton SPCA imported 600 dogs from
Louisiana, "makes no sense, when we have no shortage of stray dogs here."
He says it is essential that the provincial government authorize (and pay
for) a new study in the increase of heartworm disease. The last full study
was done in 2002: "We thought the disease was almost stamped out in
Ontario, but now it will take years to correct."

Of some 400 000 dogs tested in 2002, 258 had heartworm. "It was usually 2
or 3 worms in the heart. Some of these Louisiana dogs may have 150 worms in
the heart, the lungs, the kidneys. A mosquito bites an infected Louisiana
dog, then bites a local dog, and the local dog then has heartworm. Signs
are lethargy, weariness, loss of appetite and eventual collapse. Treatment
can cost well over CAD 1000 [USD 960]."

Mr Sykes acknowledges that heartworm is a concern, and feels rainy weather
increases risk, and that "snowbirds" who vacation in Florida with their
dogs may return with the dogs infected.

As well as the Hamilton SPCA, Dr Stirling says there are 16 independent dog
rescue groups in the region that import Louisiana dogs. Even though the
HAVM has persuaded Hamilton to stop importing dogs, others continue to
import them. It is a lucrative business, and source of income. People think
they are doing humane work by giving a home to a Katrina or hurricane dog.
In another sense, the program seems a virtual puppy mill, sending dogs
across the US and into Canada.

While the Hamilton SPCA sold Louisiana dogs for CAD 470 [USD 451] each,
they usually charge CAD 330 [USD 316] for local adoptive dogs, and CAD 410
[USD 393] if it's a puppy. (Toronto Humane Society charges a tax-deductible
CAD 100 [USD 96] for a dog, "or what you can afford"; Toronto Animal
Services (TAS) charges CAD 166.25 [USD 159.40] for dogs, CAD 99.75 [USD
95.62] for cats).

Dr Stirling says Ontario government vets have tried for 3 years to alert
the government on the need for a heartworm investigation, but have gotten
no response. He also says he understands some Louisiana dogs have been sent
to Calgary and the [US] state of Washington -- "where I hear they have had
an outbreak of diseases common in the south but until now unknown in the

Michael O'Sullivan, chairman and CEO of the Humane Society of Canada, has
visited BARK in Louisiana and says to him "it makes no sense to import
American dogs when we have no shortage of abandoned dogs here." He thinks
the BARK people are sincere and genuinely seek to help dogs. They are a
registered charity. O'Sullivan says he's visited the Hamilton SPCA "and
I've seen these dogs in cages piled on top of one another, waiting to be sold."

Ian McConachie, senior communicator at the Toronto Humane Society (which
has abundant dogs for adoption) is also concerned about the rise of
heartworm and says since Hurricane Katrina, heartworm nearly tripled in
Ontario, from 244 cases to 676. "Even that doesn't explain a 10-fold
increase in the Hamilton area between 2007-2008.

Dr J Owen Slocombe, recently retired professor of pathobiology at the
University of Guelph has done extensive studies of heartworm disease. He's
known in the profession as "Dr Heartworm", and is being approached to come
out of retirement to conduct another provincial study -- if the Ontario
government will provide funding.

At the moment, it looks as if an epidemic is looming, and vets like Randy
Stirling urge everyone with dogs to ensure they don't have heartworm.

Another danger of this parasitic disease transmitted by mosquitoes is that
wildlife is vulnerable, especially foxes, wolves, coyotes, raccoons: "Once
heartworm disease infects wildlife, a permanent source of infection becomes
established since there is no preventive medication or treatment for wild

October 12th, 2009, 02:26 PM
Interesting. I am dealing with a GSD who is stage 2 heartworm.

Our rescue has had now 8 dogs confirmed heartworm and one with lyme disease as well.

I have advised the shelters here about the problem and they do not think that this is a problem :frustrated: (tell that to the dogs going undetected).

Other rescues I have sent dogs to have also reported hearworm. There is definately a problem.

October 12th, 2009, 07:42 PM
Very informative, thanks.