November 01, 2013


 Saving pets through education

Dr. Stephen L. Jones is the 2013-2016 American Heartworm Society president 


Dr. Stephen L. Jones
Dr. Stephen L. Jones estimates he treated 4,000 to 5,000 pets with heartworm infections before joining the American Heartworm Society’s Executive Board in 2008.
When he did, fellow board members­—including cardiologists and parasitologists—showed him he knew “nothing” about heartworm, he said.

“The amazing thing to me is to see how much I’ve learned in the past six years,” he said.

Dr. Jones, who started his three-year term as president of the society in September 2013, has worked to contribute to the organization on the basis of his clinical experience, complementing those working in research and academia.

For example, he could educate fellow members about the lack of clinical signs of disease in some dogs that had been infected for years with high volumes of Dirofilaria immitis as well as describe the reluctance among some clients to administering preventives to their pets. He knew that making heartworm prevention affordable could be difficult, particularly for clients who can barely afford rabies vaccines and own six or eight pets.

Dr. Jones became the AHS president during the group’s 2013 Triennial Symposium, Sept. 8-10 in New Orleans. He also is a partner at Lakeside Animal Hospital in Moncks Corner, S.C., less than 20 miles from Summerville, where he grew up.

As a child, he spent time in nearby woods, using traps to capture birds, squirrels, and rabbits just long enough to see them up close. His father suggested that he become a veterinarian, and he wanted to be one since he was 12 years old.

After earning his DVM degree in 1985 at the University of Georgia, he looked for work close to home. He partnered with Dr. William West, who had founded Lakeside in 1981.

Moncks Corner is in an area with lakes, rivers, swamps, and, as a result, enough mosquitoes to make heartworm disease a common concern. Foxes, coyotes, and stray dogs also serve as hosts, as do pets that are not given preventives.

He hopes the AHS can improve awareness among the public and many veterinarians about the need for heartworm prevention and testing as well as improve its services for veterinarians and veterinary technicians, increase its role in research funding, and provide guidance for those running animal shelters.

Working with shelters

Dr. Jones said it seems that every animal shelter in the U.S. has different methods of dealing with heartworm infections. He wants the AHS to address a void in knowledge among many who operate those shelters. Some of those shelters do not test for heartworms and do not know when pets are infected, he said.

“Those pets continue to spread disease, and clients adopt pets not knowing that they have an illness or potential illness they’re going to have to face,” he said.

Dr. Stephen L. Jones wants the American Heartworm Society to give more guidance to those who work in animal shelters. (Photo by Malinda Larkin)
For the shelters following AHS recommendations, treatment can take three to four months to eliminate heartworms in a dog, and keeping a dog in a shelter for so long can be problematic, Dr. Jones said. Shelter operators do not always give appropriate treatment or educate a pet’s new owner on heartworm prevention.

Dr. Jones expressed hope that the AHS could develop some guidance in the next 12 months.

“We’re hopeful to put together some information for animal shelters: something they can hold in their hands, pass along to people who adopt pets, educate their staff with, and make sure they understand the recommendations of the American Heartworm Society and why those recommendations are significant, why they are important,” he said.

Reaching veterinarians

Dr. Jones said the AHS board is working to deliver more information and make the organization more valuable to veterinarians and veterinary technicians, who have diverse interests and educational needs.

“For example, the heartworm symposium is a fabulous symposium if you want to go and learn about heartworm,” Dr. Jones said. “But, what if you also want to learn how to do a knee surgery, and you also want to learn more about cardiology? “There are so many things that will take veterinarians in a different direction.”

Dr. Jones hopes the AHS can periodically attract their attention toward heartworm disease.

“That has to come from them finding value in what we’re doing—value in the information we produce, value in the posters they can print from our website, value in the downloaded application that can help them calculate treatments for heartworm disease,” he said.

He also wants to make sure veterinarians know about the AHS service that passes along its members’ heartworm-related questions to experts who can provide answers.

To better reach veterinarians and the public, the AHS also has been increasing its use of social media and working to improve its website and logo, providing opportunities to remind people what they need to do to prevent heartworm disease in both dogs and cats.

Even the dogs that survive heartworm infections can have permanent damage in blood vessels and lungs, potentially shortening their lives, he said. Infected cats can have reactions that cause increased vomiting, asthma-like signs, or death, even though heartworms are less likely to survive to adulthood in cats.

Dr. Jones said people whose pets develop heartworm disease understand thereafter why preventives are needed, whereas educating others can be more difficult. Pet owners need to know that preventive care through annual checkups, vaccinations, and heartworm preventive use are helping keep their pets healthy.

“I would like all of my clients to prevent all of the diseases we can prevent,” he said. “And if we can do that, I won’t have to work so hard.”