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Canine heartworm disease (Dirofilaria immitis) in Western Europe: survey of veterinary awareness and perceptions

Genchi, Claudio, Bowman, Dwight, Drake, Jason
Parasites & vectors 2014 v.7 no.1 pp. 206
Dirofilaria immitis, compliance, dogs, drugs, e-mail, expert opinion, guidelines, heartworms, perceptions (cognitive), pets, questionnaires, risk, surveys, veterinarians, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, Western European region
BACKGROUND: This survey examines the experience and opinion of veterinarians with canine heartworm (HW; Dirofilaria immitis) infection in non-endemic and endemic areas of Europe. METHODS: A questionnaire was distributed by e-mail to veterinary practitioners within non-endemic countries including UK, Germany, and Netherlands,non-endemic regions of France, Spain, Italy and endemic regions of France, Spain and Italy. The main questions were about the HW cases seen in the last 12 months, if the number of cases had changed over the last 5 years and practitioner awareness of the ESCAAP Guidelines on HW. Additional questions examined practitioner perception regarding the risk of HW for pets travelling in endemic areas and the use of preventatives including veterinary perception of pet owner compliance. RESULTS: Overall 584 responses, 389 from non-endemic countries and regions and 195 from endemic regions were obtained. Most of the cases were seen in endemic regions, although in Germany 20% of veterinarians reported cases of HW infection. Overall, 10% of practitioners in non-endemic areasand 12% in endemic areas, respectively, reported an increasing number of cases. The practitioner awareness of ESCCAP guidelines is low. Veterinarians responded that preventative drugs were prescribed to most client dogs in endemic areas and most practitioners rated owner compliance as good or excellent in following the veterinarian’s guidance for HW prevention. Overall 63% of veterinarians responded that owners are more or less aware of the HW risk traveling with their dogs in endemic areas. Forty four percent of responders in non-endemic regions considered it somewhat likely to very likely that HW infection will become endemic in their regions. CONCLUSIONS: In both non-endemic and endemic countries at least 1 responding practitioner admitted seeing a case of canine HW infection and has shown awareness regarding infection. Ten percent of practitioners stated that the number of cases is increasing. Although the number of owners traveling with their dogs was low, the perception of surveyed veterinarians was that owners were quite aware of the HW risk for their dogs. Several veterinary practitioners believe that HW infection could become endemic in their non-endemic area within the next 10 years.