Global warming has been blamed for everything from an increase in hurricanes to rising sea levels and polar glacial activity. Could it also be affecting the health and well-being of your dog?

Living a dog's life could be a great thing in the United States this year, with spending on pets forecast to hit a new high despite the recession. My friends often jokingly wish that they had been born a dog in a pet-loving household.

It is estimated that pet owners spent more than $41 billion on their pets in 2008.

Despite all the medical care, toys, special diets and other accessories, far too many dogs still fall victim to a disease that can easily be prevented.

The calamity of canine heartworm disease continues to prove deadly to dogs across the United States. What might be worse is that the warming of our planet may be contributing to the spread of this disease.

Canine heartworms are spread by more than 70 species of mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes require warmth and humidity to survive and reproduce.

Diseases that are considered to be "tropical" often are associated with mosquitoes. However, these tropical diseases have been showing up in less than tropical areas.

According to World Health Organization, malaria has been found in the Colombian Andes, more than 7,000 feet above sea level.

Human diseases are not the only ones found in uncommon areas.


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In a recent survey of more than 11,000 veterinary clinics across the United States, it was estimated that more than 250,000 dogs were diagnosed with canine heartworm disease, and many think that at least that number go undiagnosed.

Although the southeastern states have a much higher prevalence of this terrible disease, every state has been affected. Heartworms were found in every state — including Alaska. Florida, Texas and Louisiana combined to account for nearly 75,000 of the cases found.

Compared to previous surveys, it appears that the incidence of canine heartworm disease has not diminished, and that has scientists and veterinarians frustrated.

The severe hurricane season of 2005, which some scientists also have blamed on the global warming trends, sent many dogs from the heartworm-heavy Southern states across the United States into areas not normally associated with significant heartworm populations.

Other sections of the same survey showed that the majority of veterinarians surveyed recommend year-round heartworm prevention for their patients and also recommended annual testing.

With these types of recommendations, why is it that we continue to see so many cases of this potentially deadly disease?

There are several reasons.

First, dogs are not the only animals to be affected by heartworms. The disease has been found in coyotes, wild dogs, foxes and cats.

Second, the reported quarter-million dogs in the study represent only dogs that received veterinary care. Many dogs, both owned and stray, never receive the preventive care needed to stop the disease.

Experts from the American Heartworm Society also have stated that the travel habits of people and where they live has helped spread the disease. As owners move from the wetter Midwest and Southeast to the drier Southwest, whole regions have been relandscaped to allow the green grasses enjoyed by most people. This has allowed for the propagation of mosquito populations in areas where they are not normally found.

Most worrisome is information found in a compliance study done by the American Animal Hospital Association.

In this study, it was found that less than 50 percent of pet owners comply with their veterinarian's recommendations for giving the monthly heartworm products that can prevent the disease. This has become such an issue that many of the veterinary pharmaceutical companies that produce the heartworm preventive medications now offer e-mail reminders for clients.

Several heartworm preventives are on the market, including both oral formulations and topical preparations.

Although all products are safe and effective in preventing heartworms, the president of the American Heartworm Society urges pet owners to not switch products without first discussing the change with their veterinarian.

An annual blood test of your dog will help to determine if he or she might have heartworms. Even if your pet is on a preventive year round, the yearly test offers confidence that the preventive is working and that your pet has not decided to bury the pill in your backyard.

Additionally, this visit to your veterinarian can help you provide the highest level of care for your pet and is a great time for a wellness check and a medical or behavioral consultation.

Whether you live in Texas or California, heartworm disease is a concern for all pet owners.

Raj Salwan, a second-generation veterinarian, has been in veterinary medicine for more than 21 years. Reach him at drsalwan@aol.com or www.americananimalcare.com.