Monday, February 22, 2010

Cutting through the heartworm BS

This was a post written a few months back but got shelved when the Toronto Humane Society arrests happened (Under the sort of new management, I don't know what their policy is now towards Katrina dogs). After watching Mine on PBS last night, I figured maybe it's time to resurrect it.

The Toronto Humane Society and its propaganda arm, the Toronto Sun, have both got their knives out taking jabs at the OSPCA for rescuing dogs from the United States because some of those dogs have tested heartworm positive. Usually, my faith in either outlet providing any animal welfare information which even remotely approaches the objective truth is about nil. They are both so steeped in vilification politics it makes me sick. Like dealing with attention seeking, little boys who cry wolf, I tend to believe the opposite of everything they write or at best just ignore their pronouncements about how everyone else sucks.

This heartworm affair only began to seriously catch my attention when I heard that both the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association and the Hamilton Academy of Veterinarians have put out notices warning the public about the rise of heartworm cases in Southern Ontario blaming it, in part, on the import of Katrina/Louisiana dogs into the region.

From HAV:
Veterinarians are extremely concerned about a 10-fold increase in the number of “seen and treated” cases of heartworm disease in Hamilton and the surrounding area in 2008. This dramatic increase was particularly evident in dogs that had been imported into Canada from heartworm-endemic areas of the United States, specifically but not limited to Louisiana.

Kinda scary.

But it goes on:
In 2009, veterinarians are seeing the same type of dramatic increase in heartworm disease in dogs born and raised in Canada. It is believed that these dogs were infected by mosquitoes that had come into contact with imported dogs carrying the disease.

Really? It's "believed"? I want to see some numbers to back up this belief. I want to see some information about where and when.

Here's another excerpt from a recent publication from the University of Guelph, one which has actually been peer reviewed:

Between 1998 and 2005, the number of canine sera samples submitted to the Animal Health Laboratory at the University of Guelph for leptospirosis serologic testing increased from 42 to 1136. In 2005, 251 samples (22%) were positive for leptospirosis and 404 (36%) were "suspicious."6 There has been no change in laboratory diagnostic procedures over this time, so the increases in cases may reflect increased awareness and, more concerningly, a true increase in the incidence and level of disease activity in Ontario. There has been a similar trend Quebec, where the number of positive canine serodiagnoses rose from 5 in 1998 to 56 in 2006. The number of canine cases has also increased in New Brunswick (Dr James Goltz, New Brunswick Ministry of Agriculture and Aquaculture, personal communication, 2005).

Holy shit! That's like a 10-fold increase in reported cases of lepto. And what's the suspected reason for this increase? It must be because of all those bleeding heart animal rescue groups bringing sick shelter dogs up from Louisiana instead of letting them rot and die down there in their cages, right Mr. Trow and Mr. Worthington? Wrong.

The increased number of cases observed in certain parts of Canada likely relates to a combination of increased infection among the large number of raccoons that inhabit urban and suburban settings, ecological conditions brought about by a warming climate that favours the survival of this fastidious organism and increased awareness of the infection by veterinarians.

So, that's:

1. wildlife carriers
2. warming climate
3. increased awareness by vets

No mention of Louisiana dogs. No jabs at rescue groups. No calls for investigating those animal welfare agencies who actually have a greater concern for animals than for scoring dirty political points.

Then on the other hand, there's the Toronto Humane Society:

The Toronto Humane Society has been striving, along with the veterinary profession and the media, to raise awareness and end the importation of dogs to Ontario from areas where heartworm is endemic.

If rescue groups here had actually followed this advice, hundreds of Katrina dogs and other dogs in desperate need would not have been brought to Ontario and saved and would likely now still be locked up in some god forsaken cage or dead. Isn't the THS supposed to be about rescuing dogs?

The THS "news" release continues, and here's where it gets all stabby:

It appears that the former Chair of the Ontario SPCA, and its newly appointed Chief Operating Officer, was aware of the concerns raised by veterinarians as early as April of this year. The HAVM brought the situation to his attention while in his role as President and CEO of the Hamilton SPCA. The HAVM was extremely concerned as it had seen a 10 fold increase in cases of heartworm in the Hamilton area, many of which were traced back to dogs imported by the Hamilton SPCA from the Southern United States.

Oh and by the way, the THS has been engaged in a lawsuit against the Hamilton SPCA for ages now. Funny they forgot to mention that. Of course that wouldn't have anything to do with the anti-HBSPCA swipe now would it?

You know what would be inexcusable? It would be inexcusable to promote one's own ego driven political agenda on the backs of abandoned animals.

And you know what really surprises me the most (though at this point I don't know why anything would surprise me when it comes to how low the THS will go to discredit others)? On THS' heartworm advisory page they've posted articles from the Ontario Landowner's Association. The OLA articles try really hard to discredit the OSPCA's actions with regards to rescuing southern dogs. Now I'm not sure why but it seems to me the OLA has a huge hate on for the OSPCA and possibly for most animal welfare agencies. Not surprising coming from a group that happily promotes something like this:

Here are two photos of habitat clearances to protect private property values from the Endangered Species Act that took place on May 7

In Glengarry county, a number of Glengarry Landowners members armed with chainsaws cut down brush and trees on a property to protect the market value of the property by removing the potential of a habitat for an endangered species being identified. This designation would have placed severe land use restrictions on the property that would have devalued the property. The protection of this property was completed. The day was a success. The day was attended as well by several municipal councillors and the local newspapers. There was good coverage in local newspapers.

That's right you endangered species. We don't give a shit if you go extinct. Just get the fuck off our land so it's property value doesn't go down.

Now is this the kind of attitude the THS wants to support? Has the THS gone so low as to hop into bed with the OLA just so they can take a mutual swipe at the OSPCA?

And even more ironically, the OLA even takes a kick at THS' fave hero, Tre Smith:

The OSPCA is a stand alone “charity” independent of government that receives very little funding from government. Hence the need to do fund raising to cover the $13000000. cost to run the organization. This creates a conflict of interest because fund raising is greatly enhanced by sensationalizing and glamorizing “so called incidents of abuse”. For example: in Toronto, enforcer Tre Smith hand cuffed dog owner Paul Soderholm to the steering wheel of his car and then encouraged a street gang to “teach him a lesson”. Paul Soderholm was taken to a hospital with severe injuries resulting from the beating. Two people were charged with assault and assault with a weapon.

Wow. Talk about misleading by failing to reveal the whole story. They don't mention that Tre Smith was an employee of the Toronto Humane Society not the OSPCA. Nor do they mention the most important part of the story which is that Soderholm had locked his dog in a car in the middle of summer so that it was basically boiling to death but I guess if you're willing to gleefully cut down habitat for endangered species what's another dead dog?

The OLA and the THS. Strange bedfellas. Who woulda thunk?

Um ... this post was about heartworm.

No one likes the idea of unknowingly bringing diseased dogs into Canada and letting them loose into the general public without ensuring that they can and will be properly treated. Our concern should be to make sure the public is educated about the disease and that the proper policies and regulations are in place to help prevent the spread of heartworm regardless of where it comes from because it will get here whether southern state dogs are rescued or not, just like lepto got here, just like West Nile got here, just like H1N1 got here.

We've already seen heartworm in Montreal dogs. If it's in Montreal, it'll get to Ottawa and if it gets to Ottawa, it'll get here. Maybe it's already here.

If heartworm is the concern, then deal with the heartworm. The problem with using something like heartworm as a political weapon is that we get fed truckloads of misinformation and anecdotal evidence and stories from unknown sources and then we all start to lose focus on trying to find a solution to the real problem which is the disease and the plight of the Katrina animals. Instead, we're directed to get embroiled in trying to find the guilty party, even if there may be no guilty party, and making someone pay.

An estimated 600,000 pets died or were left homeless because of Katrina. Is it more important for the THS to help some of these animals or is it more important to use the suffering of these animals as part of a political strategy for denigrating one's opponents?

But of course it's always easier to chuck stones at someone else to distract attention from one's own house when it's in complete disarray.

Some opinions on heartworm meds:

Also see Terrierman's The Billion Dollar Heartworm Scam.

As always, do your own research before putting your dog on any medication.


Anonymous said...

With the loss in revenue from annual vaccinations, veterinarians have been searching for another way to get clients into clinics. (Unfortunately annual wellness testing - while crucial - doesn't sell well.)

If they can get clients worried about heartworm and the need for annual bloodwork (as opposed to just the drugs) then vets could increase revenues.

However, in 2000 the heartworm infection rate for Ontario was just 0.13%. (Slocombe:

It's 10 years old, but still - a ten-fold increase makes it 1.3%. Not exactly panic-inducing IMHO.

I don't mean to slam vets. The possibilities for, and quality of, veterinary care has drastically improved in recent decades. They run businesses and deserve a good quality of life.

But using heartworm this way is misleading. Veterinarians are among the most loved of all professionals, and their representative organizations do them no favours in behaving this way.

Anonymous said...

GO TO terrierman's daily dose and search to see his take on heart worm.

Clint Cora said...

I remember up here in the Mississauga/Toronto area years ago when I had my first two dogs, heartworm was not an issue so we never bothered on meds. Years later when I moved to Montreal and got my two new dogs, I had to get heartworm preventative meds for the first time since Quebec was heartworm territory.

Then when I moved back to Mississauga with my current dogs, I was told by my original vet here (who also took care of my previous dogs) that this region has indeed become heartworm territory.

So we håd to continue with our heartworm preventative meds. Fortunately, I discovered online pet pharmacies which took some sting out of the costs (I wrote an article about them in my dog blog). Of course, I would rather not go on meds but it's better to be on the safe side. So this means preventative treatment each month from June to November for us.

Fred said...

Anon, thanks for the Terrierman link suggestion. I'm going to post them in the main section.

Meaghan Edwards said...

There has been a crapload of mosquitoes in the summer as a result of all the rain we had and no doubt they played a role in heartworm increase. Along with not enough people not getting heartworm prevention.

But I suppose it's so much easier to put the blame on those eeeevil Louisiana dogs, the eeevil Hamilton SPCA and BARK. If it wasn't for these two rescue organizations, I wouldn't have my Matilda. She is the healthiest, happiest dog I have ever had.

Look at that sickly dog. How dare she have been brought up here!

Anonymous said...

Penny never would have come into my life if she hadn't been brought up from Louisiana. And our new dog that we adopted after Penny's death is a Louisiana dog too. Java would have been put down in an instant, being a black dog, or worse, adopted for the wrong reasons because of her breed. Thank God BARK brought them both up here.

Social Mange said...

"It would be inexcusable to promote one's own ego driven political agenda on the backs of abandoned animals."

Take out "abandoned" and you're talking about the McGuinty Liberals.

Caveat said...

I dont' know why your mind is so closed to the obvious - dogs from areas where vaccination/prevention are historically weak, where poverty is endemic, where climates allow for the survival of parasites and bacteria that would die during Canadian winters - can carry parasites, fungi and diseases that have been almost eradicated or are unknown here in Canada.

Lepto has always been associated with raccoons, primarily the urine but also the faeces. My former vet was the one who pushed for lepto vaccination in Ontario initially, btw.

The real problem is that many pet owners and even ethical breeders believe it won't happen to them. I prefer to vaccinate and use heartworm/parasite prevention such as Revolution, which is not an insecticide but a drug, in order to keep my pets safe but these products can be prohibitively expensive, especially for multiple or large pets.

The obvious solution is for these 'rescue' organizations to ensure that dogs get a vet check and treatment, including preventative treatment, for any health problems they may carry.

If only we could do the same with human visitors!

PS I found out recently that it is illegal to run a private rescue in Ontario, which was interesting, since it is a completely unregulated undertaking. Also unregulated are groomers, trainers, boarders/daycare operators and preparers of commercial pet foods. This really, really bugs me.

I guess it's because animals can't talk. Or something.

Anonymous said...

Terrierman is an idiot.

To the poster above who orders meds online I hope they are getting the blood test at the vet's at least every two years.

To give heartworm meds to a dog with heartworm can be fatal.

Fred said...

Caveat, first, welcome back.

I don't at all dispute that dogs coming from heartworm endemic areas carry a greater risk of having heartworm, but what I do have a problem with, which I may not have expressed well enough in the post, is that all dogs from such areas shouldn't automatically be precluded from rescue just because there's a chance they might have heartworm. As you say, there are policies and procedures which can be put in place to help prevent spread of the disease.

Given that we already have heartworm up here from domestic sources (I know our winters are suppose to kill off heartworm nematodes in mosquitoes but there's still a high prevalence of heartworm in Quebec, which tends to have much colder winters than here in Toronto, so there's something we're overlooking), I don't think it's fair to place so much of the responsibility on Katrina dogs. We've already got the problem so our dogs should be on preventative measures anyway.

You're right that rescues should do a proper job of screening. As always, some will do what is required and others will cut corners but that doesn't just apply to heartworm nor to just rescues. Some shelters who point dirty fingers at others do a crap job as well.

Of course nothing we do will completely eliminate risk. Every time I go to the shelter I risk bringing back some disease to my dogs at home or picking up some zoonotic disease myself but I'm willing to take that risk (can't speak for my dogs, though). It'll be up to us to balance the risk of increased heartworm infection (whether negligible or significant) with saving animal lives.

Whichever direction this debate goes, I especially dislike heartworm being used as a political tool to jab at enemies. The science is difficult enough to figure out without animal welfare agencies polluting it with politics.

Anonymous, before calling someone an idiot, you might want to do some more research. You can start here:

Here's an excerpt:

In most cases no reaction of any kind occurs when an ivermectin-based heartworm preventive is given to a heartworm positive dog.

In fact, giving an ivermectin-based heartworm preventive to an infected dog is the first step in heartworm infection treatment. Ivermectin kills the developing larval worms and clears the circulating microfilariae thus rendering the dog unable to spread its infection and minimizing the number of adult worms to be killed in the second phase of treatment when the adult worms are specifically addressed.

And no, it's not some fringe, nutjob site.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Anon is instead referring the the fact that Ivermectin can be deadly to dogs that have the mdr1 gene?
(I only know about it because I recently looked in to getting as Australian Shepherd)


Fred said...

HTG, yeah, I've read that Collies and ivermectin don't mix but now they've discovered what it is exactly in collies that makes some of them reactive to it. There's a DNA test available to see if a dog will be sensitive:

Anonymous said...

When I saw the THS post on their website, I said "huh? But the THS brought back dogs (4 in total, I think, but can't remember their names) from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina..." Perhaps a case of selective memory?