Heartworm medication shortage a challenge for veterinarians, pet owners

Shortage of heartworm medication a challenge for veterinarians, pet owners

Pet owners know the importance of preventative medicine for diseases like heartworm but what happens if your pet gets the disease and there's a shortage of medicine for it?

"In the beginning, the intent was for me to rescue them but anyone who is in rescue will tell you that they rescue you," said Kerry Andersen, pet owner.

Andersen said her rescue dog, Reno, came into her life at the perfect time.

"Through my cancer, in the last few years, this is the one that's been by my side, non-stop, and has been my rock and does not leave my side," she said.

Reno tested negative for heartworm when Andersen first adopted him. So, she put him on heartworm preventative medicine, but as Dr. Wade Woolman at Downtown Animal Hospital explains, when dogs first test for heartworm, there could be false negatives.

"What you do is get a heartworm test. If it's negative, wait six months and then do another heartworm test. And then you do it once a year after that," Woolman said.

"It turned out that he was not only positive, but he was strong positive. So, his little heart, right now, is filled with adult-sized heartworms," Andersen said.

Only one company manufactures the medicine that treats animals once they've contracted heartworm. In 2009, that company, Merial, announced a medicine shortage.

"They're having a hard time meeting the supply because the demand is so high. There are a lot of dogs out there that need treatment," Woolman said.

According to the American Heartworm Association, and shown through incident maps, the number of heartworm cases over the past 10 years has grown and spread throughout the country.

While that's the logical explanation for the medicine shortage, Woolman said it's not the end-all-be-all for dogs with the disease.

"They're working with European distributors that are trying to get more supply here for us," Woolman said.

In the meantime, Woolman said prevention is key.

"Be really religious about giving it once a month and stay on top of that," he said.

And Reno will keep fighting with all of his heart in hopes that medicine is available soon.

Find tips on prevention HERE.

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