Heartworm guidelines developed for dog, cat survivors of Katrina

Published on May 15, 2006
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Sixty percent of dogs displaced by Hurricane Katrina are likely to be infested with heartworms, estimates Dr. Tom Nelson, president of the American Heartworm Society.

Some veterinarians worry that heartworm disease could spread to nonendemic areas such as the Pacific Northwest, California, and the Southwest, where many of these animals now live.

In response, Dr. Kate Hurley, director of shelter medicine at the University of California-Davis, developed informational guidelines for heartworm management in animals evacuated from hurricane-stricken areas. Dr. Hurley established the protocol in conjunction with Dr. Nelson and Dwight Bowman, PhD, professor of parasitology at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. The information is available at www.heartwormsociety.org.

Dr. Nelson estimates that on the basis of necropsies performed on shelter cats from similar geographic regions, 5 percent to 10 percent of cats rescued as a result of Katrina are infested with adult heartworms, and 30 percent with immature heartworms. The guidelines suggest that it may be appropriate not to test all cats but to advise adoptive owners of the possibility of infection.

The protocol is intended to supplement the advisory guidelines developed last fall by the AVMA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention primarily to meet the needs of shelters housing animals affected by the hurricane. They are posted at www.avma.org/aa/hurricane/disease_control.asp.

The shelter program at UC-Davis is quantifying and characterizing the enteric pathogens present in dogs displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita as the dogs entered shelters to determine whether they present an increased threat to resident populations.