Dog in Lingan diagnosed with early onset of disease uncommon to Cape Breton
By Chris Shannon – Cape Breton Post
SYDNEY, N.S. — For the first time since 2011, a case of the potentially fatal heartworm disease has been diagnosed in a Cape Breton dog.
In this case and the one of five years ago, the infected animals lived between the Union Highway and Lingan Beach Road.
The disease can only be transmitted through a mosquito bite and is mostly a concern for dogs, cats and even ferrets.
Dogs typically show no signs early on in the life of the illness, said Sydney Animal Hospital veterinarian Dr. Charlotte Ramey.
But left unchecked the dog’s condition will worsen.
“The worms mature into full-sized adults — grow to several centimetres in length … in the heart. Because of that there is a risk the worms can be expelled from the heart and end up in the lungs,” Ramey said.
In the most serious cases over a period of years, a dog could experience heart failure or pulmonary collapse.
In this most recent case, the dog’s owner wanted the puppy checked for Lyme disease because a deer tick bit it a few weeks ago.
The same blood test used to check for Lyme disease is also used to diagnose heartworms.
Treatment options vary depending on how long the dog has lived with the disease.
Ramey said dogs are put on strict rest, given heartworm medication and antibiotics for four months to a year.
She said the dog owners on Lingan Road who had their puppy tested were lucky to catch the disease in its early stage.
“She didn’t have any symptoms so she could be managed on an outpatient basis. But in a severe case these guys would need to be managed in hospital at least for the first little while.”
The dog’s owners declined the Post’s request for an interview.
At the Sydney Animal Hospital on Tuesday word was slowly getting out about the heartworm diagnosis.
Colleen MacNeil of Sydney brought her 10-year-old Shih Tzu named Piper in to the clinic for a routine checkup. She also had her dog checked for symptoms of heartworm.
“It’s very scary especially for her now since she’s 10 and her lifespan is generally 10 to 12 (years),” MacNeil said.
“If anything like that happened to her I don’t know what I would do. She’s my baby.”
Ramey said the best course for preventative treatment of the disease is monthly medication. Some medicines combine heartworm with flea treatments.
She said treatments should begin in April when mosquitoes appear and continue until October or November.
Cases of heartworm have been uncommon in Cape Breton but as climate patterns change and winters become milder, Ramey said she expects to see more cases of heartworm on the island.
Stages of heartworm disease
• Lowest risk: young healthy dogs with minimal heartworm disease evident on X-rays and all other tests are normal.
• Moderately affected dogs: some coughing is noticed, some difficulty breathing, changes are seen on X-rays, and blood work may reveal some kidney and/or liver damage.
• Severely affected dogs: the patient has weight loss, coughing, difficulty breathing, more damage visible on X-rays, and blood tests shows kidney and/or liver damage.
• Vena cava syndrome or caval syndrome: the dog is collapsing in shock, difficulty breathing is more intense, and the dog is dying.