Veterinary teams know pet owners as clients, friends, and neighbors. Yet for veterinary teams that wish to strengthen client relationships, improve compliance, and ensure better overall patient health, pet owners should also be thought of as learners because they naturally want information that will help ensure the health and well-being of their pets. And providing pet owners with client education information becomes extra important in spring when it comes to heartworm prevention.

Less Than Half of U.S. Dog Owners Regularly Buy Heartworm Preventives

heartworm awareness

According to the American Heartworm Society, less than half of U.S. dog owners regularly buy heartworm preventives, and lack of awareness is a big reason. According to findings published in Veterinary Practice News, dog owners simply don’t know they should.

Compounding This—Heartworm Disease Is Spreading

A few recent examples:

  • In an August 1st, 2020 story by the AVMA, Chris Duke, DVM and president of the American Heartworm Society, reported rising numbers of heartworm infections in Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Minneapolis, as well as smaller cities in Oklahoma and California.
  • On Feb. 9th, 2021, Pet Parasite Forecasts showed high heartworm disease infection risks across the U.S. west coast and in interior states like Kansas, Nebraska, and North Dakota.

Yes, Cats Can Get Heartworm Disease Too

The Surprising Statistics

While cats are not a natural host for heartworm, and thus are relatively resistant (as compared to dogs), the rate of infection is 5-20% of the rate reported in dogs in the same geographic location. In one study published by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, heartworm infection in cats was reported in 38 U.S. states.

Indoor Cats Are Not Immune From the Risk

In the same way that dogs become infected, cats become infected with heartworm through the bite of an infected mosquito.

Indoor cats are not immune from the risk! Whether through an open door as you enter or leave, or through a small tear in a window screen, mosquitos can (and do) find their way into homes. So perhaps unsurprisingly, about one third of heartworm-infected cats are indoor cats.

How Mosquitoes Infect Cats

To become infected, cats must be bitten by a heartworm-infected mosquito. Heartworm cannot be transmitted from one cat to another, or from dog to cat (or cat to dog).

When a heartworm-infected mosquito lands on a cat to have a blood meal, it inserts its needle-like mouthpiece into the skin. While sucking, microscopic heartworm larvae are transmitted into the skin.

The larvae grow for several months before they migrate into the bloodstream and are carried to the right side of the heart and the pulmonary artery (the large vessel that carries blood from the heart to the lungs), where they settle and mature into adult heartworms.

About six months after entering the cat, the heartworms are mature enough to reproduce.

Treating Cats Infected With Heartworm

Unfortunately, there are no satisfactory treatment approaches or approved medications to treat heartworm infection in cats, as there are in dogs. Treatment is usually supportive, focusing on managing the symptoms of the disease and preventing new heartworm infection. Surgical removal of heartworms is possible but is often reserved for cats with a poor prognosis otherwise.

Prevention Is the Best Protection

The best way to prevent heartworm in your cat is to give your cat a heartworm preventive. There are many forms of prevention, usually given monthly. They may be given orally or applied topically.

In warmer climates, where mosquitoes are present all year round, cats should be on a preventive all year round. In colder climates, where mosquitos are seasonal, cats should be on a preventive diet for at least six months of the year, starting before the mosquitoes become active.

The Challenge Faced by Veterinary Teams

While pet owners want heartworm prevention information (and client education information in general to protect the health of their pets), they face the same forces of impatience, distraction, and information overload that most people face. These forces form the basis of Bersin by Deloitte’s infographic Meet the Modern Learner:

modern learner

All this simply means your heartworm prevention information has some serious competition to secure a spot on a pet owner’s client education radar. So, how do you get your heartworm prevention messages heard better?

1. Give Pet Owners the Right Information When They Need It

When it’s heartworm prevention season, for example, don’t distract pet owners from the subject by giving them client education information about pet dental health or other information better given at another time. If pet owners leave your clinic distracted or confused by the priority in their pet’s health, they may not consider heartworm prevention urgent and forget about it.

By providing a tangible, topic-targeted client education handout like the heartworm prevention handouts found in ClientEd, you ensure clients have the right information at the right time to clearly and concisely remind them of pet health priorities, like the seasonal importance of a heartworm preventive.

Because you can review ClientEd handouts with clients and easily tailor them to their pets, you also reassure clients that they can count on your clinic to provide trusted client education. This strengthens client relationships and helps ensure better pet health by steering clients away from the often misleading and incorrect pet health information found with Dr. Google.

2. Encourage Thinking Instead of Remembering

From the start to finish of a pet appointment, pet owners must remember a lot—things they observed about their pet at home, questions they wish to ask, and more. Plus, they must remember your pet care recommendations, medication instructions, and anything else. And information overload can cause pet owners to forget important pet care information and recommendations.

To eliminate client education overload, subtract where you can, which encourages thinking instead of remembering. For example, use a ClientEd handout to touch on heartworm prevention during an appointment, but remind clients that all the details are contained in the handout, which you can provide as a hard copy takeaway or send by email. This takes the pressure off a client to remember everything and makes it simple for them to think about their pet’s health with a handout lying conveniently on their desk or in their inbox.

3. Download Our Free Heartworm Awareness Kit

To save time educating clients about heartworm prevention while improving workflow efficiency, download our free Heartworm Awareness Kit to easily educate your clients about the importance of giving their pets a heartworm preventive.

Available for a limited time, our kit includes:

  • An infographic with heartworm prevention tips for clients.
  • An educational handout for clients—Heartworm Disease: Synopsis of a ClientEd Handout—that you can print and hand to clients at curbside or send by email.
  • Three social media images that you can post on Facebook to further educate your clients about the importance of heartworm prevention.
  • An email template – that you can customize with your practice information and send to your client database.

Get your free kit: