2022 Parasite forecast: Heartworm, Lyme, higher-than-average risk

The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) predicts that instances of heartworm disease will be higher than average through 2022, particularly along the Atlantic coast and Mississippi River. That’s according to the CAPC’s 2022 Annual Pet Parasite Forecast.

Additionally, Lyme disease will continue its geographic expansion southward and westward, with Michigan and portions of Ohio expected to be particularly high-risk “hot spots.”

NEWStat reached out to CAPC board member and immediate past president Craig Prior, BVSc, CVJ, to find out more about the forecast and how practices can use the free online tracking tools to help keep their patients parasite-free.

 NEWStat: In 2020, the surge in adoptions of pets during COVID led to a spike in canine parvovirus cases. It was a busy year for hurricanes, too, and a large-scale relocation of pets during the storm season exacerbated that. How did that compare to 2021, when adoptions reached their peak? 

 Craig Prior: I can’t speak for parvo cases, but if you look at CAPC maps and specifically focus on canine heartworm maps, you will see that the number of heartworm positive dogs was up in 2021 when compared to 2020.  This is most likely due to relocation of pets after natural disasters, but we’re also seeing awareness rise, so there is more testing for heartworms as veterinarians realize that they can no longer base heartworm testing and prevention recommendations on only historical heartworm risks and prevalence.

NEWStat: In what other ways is the pandemic affecting this year’s Pet Parasite Forecast? What’s the prognosis for 2022 now that many areas are returning to something close to a “new normal” as the pandemic eases?

 CP: More people are working from home than ever before, but the definition of “home” is changing. Why be anchored in one place as people realize that they can just as easily live in Colorado, Florida or any point in between and even spend a few months in many places and really experience various areas of the country.  They’re taking their pets with them and with that comes changing risk for the pet as they are exposed to different parasite risks depending on where they are currently located; or these pets are taking parasites with them to areas where these parasites have historically not been found, introducing new risks for the local population. 

We need to realize that parasites are dynamic and ever changing, and the new norm should be “Every Pet Tested, Every Pet Protected.”  By protecting the pet, we’re living a One Health message as we are also protecting the family. 

NEWStat: Pandemic concerns aside, what parasitic threats should veterinarians most be on the lookout for this year?

 CP: All of them!  We as a profession emphasize preventative medicine.  It’s time we start living it.  Are we making proper testing recommendations? Are we making broad spectrum preventative recommendations?  Are we taking the time to properly educate owners about parasites and the risks and potential diseases they carry?  CAPC has a study that shows 9 out of 10 pet owners want to know if there is a high incidence of parasites in their county; 89% of pet owners would likely schedule an appointment with the veterinarian for testing and discussion on parasites.

 NEWStat: In broad strokes, what’s the overall outlook for vector-borne diseases in 2022?

 CP: Basically, we’re continuing to see vector-borne diseases move into areas they have not been seen before as their hosts (typically ticks) expand their range.  Heartworm is continuing to spread throughout the country as we see more relocation of dogs after natural disasters or relocated for adoption.

NEWStat: How can the CAPC help veterinarians practice better medicine?

 CP: Study the CAPC Pet Parasite Forecast maps.  See the trends month over month, year over year.  See what’s creeping into your area and educate your staff and your clients.  Sign up for monthly updates on the parasite prevalence in your county.  These updates are timely, local and accurate—use them to engage your clients and warn them of the risk to their pets and their families!

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