CAPC Report Prompts Urgent Call to Check Heartworm in Traveling Dogs

February sees 10 cities with big increase in positive heartworm test results


In early February, the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) issued its CAPC Top 10 Cities Monthly Heartworm Report.

The report aims to show the veterinary industry — and pet owners — how the threat of heartworm disease is now prevalent across the entire U.S. year-round. This is mainly due to two factors:

  • Mosquitos can indeed survive winters as they live in “microclimates” in the north (inside sewers, stormwater drains, crawlspaces and alleys.
  • And, more pets are traveling around the country. The report pointed to a APPA (American Pet Products Association) statistic that 37% of pet owners travel with their pets. In addition, heartworm-infected shelter/rescue animals are being transported for adoption without being screened.

The report serves as a stark reminder: “It takes just one heartworm-infected pet in an area to become a reservoir of infection, increasing the number of infected mosquitoes and spreading the heartworm parasite to unprotected dogs and cats.”

This is why CAPC recommends year-round heartworm screening and prevention for ALL pets across the country.

As an industry Sales Rep, you’ll want to ask yourself the following three questions:

  • “What’s the heartworm prevention and screening protocol of practices in my territory?”
  • “Have they seen this prevalence data?”
  • “How can I help practices reduce those prevalence numbers?”

Keep these questions in mind as you read on…

We asked Dr. Craig Prior, DVM, CAPC board member and past board president to explain how the growth in “traveling pets” is affecting heartworm prevalence across the country… particularly in the north.

Do you know of any specific evidence of traveling pets or shelter pets bringing heartworm to areas where they ended up?

Dr. Prior: “This chart shows the number of rescue dogs that have been relocated to Colorado, and the corresponding prevalence rates for heartworm (HW) in the counties that make up the Denver metroplex. Although you can’t say definitively that the increase in prevalence is due to the movement of the shelter dogs, it is pretty compelling…”

  • 31,000 dogs were transported from southern US states to Colorado in 2017.
  • Approximately 7,000 went to these three counties that make up part of the Denver metroplex
  • Prevalence rates have increased steadily over the five-year period in these findings; more than doubling in certain areas since 2013.

What do you think the barriers are — why clients or shelters aren’t currently promoting following heartworm prevention year-round… or even screening all pets? 

Dr. Prior: “Many clients do not give HW preventive year-round or at all for a variety of reasons: They have not been educated sufficiently by the vet clinic that they need to be on a HW preventive, or on a HW preventive year-round; there may be a perceived cost issue; they believe the flea/tick preventive they are using covers heartworm as well; or they believe their pet is not at risk to name just a few.

Many shelters do not provide HW preventives or HW treatment to their wards due to financial constraints — they just don’t have the money to treat, or the HW preventive $ are not in their budget. This is unfortunate, as they ship many of these dogs with no knowledge of their HW status, and rely on either the receiving rescue organization or clients to take care of this, which often never happens either.” 

If there’s a resistance to believing heartworm is a national concern year-round, have you seen that this CAPC information has overcome resistance?

Dr. Prior: “CAPC information has been a great tool for use on the clinic level educating clients – the forecasts show expanding risks, and the new website shows the risk in the client’s county of residence — “their backyard!” It makes it very relevant as it is local and timely, hence motivating.”

What can practices do to help screen more animals and promote prevention? What can shelters do?

Dr. Prior: “Practices should make screening part of their wellness care guidelines. Every pet, every year. It should not be made a choice, but a firm recommendation.

Shelters need to ascribe to standards, which should include screening these pets. They often cite lack of funds, but if their aim is to help all these pets, then it should include screening at a minimum.”

Is there something specific that industry sales reps can do when visiting practices… to help practices adopt improved protocols and get the word out more effectively to clients and shelters?

Dr. Prior: “[Reps] can share prevalence data specific to that practice’s county from CAPC maps, and then show the forecast for the next month from for that same county. 

Show the practice manager how to sign up for monthly CAPC updates (for the counties the practice serves and the specific parasites they are battling) and then how to sign up for automatic Facebook posts.

CAPC will post one parasite once a month on behalf of the practice (it will look like it comes directly from the practice).  This will open up conversations regarding guidelines, and recommendations — a step in the right direction!”

Based on this new information… what’s your plan to address heartworm prevalence in your territory?

Armed with this information and the heartworm prevention and screening solutions in your catalog, you can make a major difference in getting more practices to screen every pet, and more clients to prevent heartworm. Everyone wins here.