Heartworm prevention on the decline

Sixty-four percent of dogs leave clinics today without a single dose of heartworm preventive.

This is according to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), which announced it is teaming up with industry partner Merial in its new heartworm protection campaign.

At the AAHA Yearly Conference in Denver, Colo., the organizations explained how they will work to protect more dogs against heartworm disease by 12 percent with 12 doses of heartworm preventive in 2012.

According to the AAHA State of the Industry address, heartworm compliance was down in 2011 when compared to 2010.

Data from the State of the Industry showed 36 percent of all dog patients received at least one dose of heartworm preventive in 2011. The number of dogs receiving fulltime doses of preventive through veterinary practices was lower, resting near 31 percent.

An even lower percentage of cat patients are receiving fulltime heartworm doses when compared to dog patients.

The AAHA data does not account for clients who may be purchasing heartworm preventive through retailers or online pharmacies.

While visits to veterinarians have decreased in recent years, doses of heartworm preventive have decreased even more.

To fight this, AAHA is challenging its practices to take what they call the 12.12.12. pledge of protecting 12 percent more dogs with 12 monthly doses of heartworm preventive.

"Knowing the importance of pets in our lives, and the value of the human-animal bond, I say let’s prevent the heartworm disease in the first place and not worry about the challenges of treatment," said Michael Cavanaugh, DVM, executive director of AAHA.

Cavanaugh said heartworm disease is easily preventable, but difficult and costly to treat.

"If I were king for a day, every cat and dog would be on heartworm preventative," Cavanaugh said. "I say this not to improve the bottom line of any business or practice, but I say this because I have seen firsthand the damage and trauma that heartworm infection can cause."

The 12.12.12. campaign will offer tools to improve client communication about the importance of heartworm preventive, as well as educate both clients and staff about the key role heartworm preventive plays in pets’ health.

Incoming AAHA President Mark Russak, DVM, said that one dose of heartworm preventive won’t do enough – year-round heartworm protection is necessary for the health of a pet.

"It’s a win-win," Russak said. "It’s good health, good for practices, and good for our pets."

So far, over 3,000 clinics have signed up for the campaign.