Parasite Forecasts

Dogs and cats are at greater risk for heartworm infection in 2016

Authors:  Byron Blagburn, MS, PhD and Rick Marrinson, DVM

This year, the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) is forecasting higher levels of heartworm transmission nationwide.

Although no region in the United States is free of heartworm, areas of particular concern in 2016 include northern California and south central Florida. Above average activity is also predicted for New Mexico, where the influence of El Nino is expected to result in higher than normal mosquitoe populations. Elevated heartworm disease transmission is also expected to spread from the lower Mississippi River region to eastern Missouri, southern Illinois and southern Indiana.

What is heartworm disease?

A serious and potentially fatal condition, heartworm disease has been diagnosed in all 50 states of the country. It only takes a single mosquito bite for pets to become infected with heartworm larvae.

In dogs, the larvae mature into adult worms in the heart and nearby blood vessels, often leading to heart and lung failure. Signs may include coughing, trouble breathing and exercise intolerance, although some dogs may show no signs at all.

While cats are less likely to develop large numbers of adult worms, immature heartworms can damage the lungs, leading to coughing, asthma-like signs or vomiting.  Even indoor cats are at risk — studies show that up to 30% of cats diagnosed with heartworm disease were described as strictly indoor.

Prevention is the best way to safeguard your pet

Although there is a treatment for heartworm disease in dogs, it can have serious side effects. And there’s no approved treatment to eliminate heartworm in cats. That’s why CAPC recommends giving your pet heartworm preventives year-round, and having your dog tested at least once a year. Your veterinarian can recommend an effective preventive that’s right for your pet.

The science behind the forecasts

How are the CAPC Heartworm Forecasts determined? Numerous factors are analyzed, including the number of positive heartworm tests and the influence of weather patterns, vegetation indices, the changing distribution of wildlife that may harbor the parasite, and human population density. Leading parasitologists work in collaboration with a team of statisticians to identify regions of the country that may experience higher parasite incidence in the months ahead. While these forecasts predict the potential risk of a dog testing positive, they do not necessarily reflect clinical disease. Learn more

Stay current on activity in your area

To help you identify the risk for heartworm infection in your geographic area, CAPC provides Parasite Prevalence Maps down to the county level. The maps report the number of dogs testing positive for heartworm infection in your area, as well as in other regions where you may travel with your pet.

Because mosquitoe activity and heartworm transmission can change, CAPC can provide you with email alerts for your area. Go to the CAPC Heartworm Prevalence Maps and click on “Get updates.” Enter your email address and click “Subscribe.” You will receive updates as they are posted.

Thankfully, heartworm disease is preventable. And the more you know about the risks in your area, the better prepared you’ll be. As always, your veterinarian is your best resource for expert advice on how to protect your pet from parasites.

Category: Parasite Forecasts