Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Preventable Diseases on the Rise on Cape Cod



We have seen a dramatic increase in preventable diseases here at VACC over the last few months.  This month alone, we have diagnosed five cases of heartworm infection – more cases in one month than all of last year combined.  A multitude of reasons play contributable factors to this and other trending preventable diseases. 

Heartworm disease in dogs used to be something rarely seen in the North East. Many believe the change in the number of infected cases is due to the increasing number of pets being rescued from Southern parts of the United States, and being relocated to Northern areas of the Country.  Regardless of the reason, our local Cape Cod wildlife canids (the coyote and fox) will now suffer and likely be at be at greater risk of heartworm disease.  When discussing heartworm prevention with our community, we really should be utilizing the term “parasite prevention.”  Did you know that a very low dose of ivermectin, the active drug found in many “monthly heartworm prevention” products, also kills hookworms as well as a round worm called bay Lisacaris?  This roundworm spreads through the feces of raccoons and can cause permanent blindness or even death, needless to say, keep your children’s sand box covered at night!  Although many of the medications we use for monthly parasite prevention are relatively inexpensive, we find the process of giving the medication on time every month appears to be our ultimate obstacle.  Be cautious of products your veterinarian does not endorse, as many of these products have proven themselves ineffective.  It is sad to see our clients with the best intentions using a product that does not work, resulting in his/her pet falling victim due to ineffectual protection.  If your mind has wandered since you’re under the impression that furry feline companions are not susceptible to this disease,  I’m sorry to say, cats can contract heartworms too.


Missed opportunity for prevention does not stop at parasite control. Keeping up to date on annual vaccines is vital for the well-being of all furry family members.  As a region, New England did a fantastic job keeping Parvovirus primarily out of our area, thanks to strict compliance on vaccines; Parvo is something most veterinarians haven’t seen in years. Parvovirus is a serious gastrointestinal virus which frequently results in fatalities – especially in puppies. The good news is this virus is vaccinated against as part of the annual shot your veterinarian often refers to as “distemper.”  Recent news stories have highlighted cases indicating that it can take only one breeder who didn’t “believe in” vaccines and suddenly we are faced with a Parvo outbreak.  While a breeder is an excellent source for advice for specific breed related questions (i.e. temperament, expected lifespan, expected size at maturity, etc), leave it to your veterinarian to advise you on vaccinations – given your veterinarian is the person who attended a minimum of eight years of higher education to give you advice on scientific- based facts.

Let’s take this opportunity to address the controversial lyme vaccine.  Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by the deer tick.  Is this infection actually preventable on Cape Cod?  The vaccine is estimated between 65-80% effective in preventing lyme disease.  It is certainly a safety net, especially for our larger breeds that tend to spend more time romping in the woods; however your first line of defense is monthly flea and tick prevention.  Your veterinary support staff can help you select the appropriate preventative, but a key criterion for an effective tick preventative is the duration of time it takes to kill the tick once it has bitten your pet.  This is important because there is a direct correlation between the risk of a tick borne illness being transmitted to your pet and the amount of time the tick is biting your pet.   In other words, the longer it takes the preventative to kill the tick, the greater the chance your pet has at contracting a tick borne illness.  Some products are repellent and some require the tick to bite before it is killed, thus your veterinarian’s advice on this subject is imperative when making the decision of which product to choose.

While we’re on the topic of ticks, you’ve all heard about the lone star tick having made itself at home right here on the Cape!  This unwelcome wash-ashore brings us Rocky Mountain spotted fever.  This disease is known to have a high mortality rate, and like lyme, is able to be transmitted to humans.  Again, the most effective protection from ticks is your first line of defense – selecting the right preventative and administering it on consistent monthly basis.

We want to be part of your pet’s health care team for a very long healthy life.  Let’s do what we can in order to reduce the odds of treating diseases that are easily preventable.  If you’re not positive that your pet has adequate preventative care, please give us a call or come on down!