Toronto Humane Society in New Orleans

| September 30, 2022

In September, Dr. Linda Jacobson presented two talks at the American Heartworm Society (AHS) Triennial Symposium on heartworm in New Orleans. Since the establishment of the AHS in 1974, a symposium has been held every three years for the purpose of presenting the latest research on heartworm disease, diagnosis, and prevention. Presenters at each symposium come from all over the world – Toronto Humane Society was represented in 2019 when Dr. Karen Ward presented, and again this year. This is a massive achievement for Toronto Humane Society. 

The AHS Heartworm Treatment Guidelines are exceptionally influential, to the extent that some States in the US are obligated to follow them by law. As they stand, they promote “best practices” without looking at heartworm treatment and prevention from the lens of clients lacking resources, or those lacking access to veterinary care for other reasons.  

For some years now, Toronto Humane Society has used a modified version of the “conventional” treatment protocol recommended by the AHS. This protocol uses 3 doses of the drug melarsomine. Our protocol shortens the AHS protocol by 6 weeks, by starting melarsomine after 2 weeks, instead of 8 weeks. Dr. Jacobson presented data on 157 dogs successfully treated for heartworm at Toronto Humane Society, showing that our protocol is safe and effective. The shorter protocol improves welfare for dogs with heartworm, who have to be strictly exercise-restricted during the conventional treatment, and also improves life-saving capacity by allowing dogs to be adopted sooner. 

Dr. Jacobson’s second talk presented the alternative treatment protocol, or so-called “slow-kill” protocol, as an accessible alternative to melarsomine. Up to now, the AHS has strongly discouraged this approach, referring to this as a “salvage treatment”. However, Dr. Jacobson summarized a body of recent evidence that showed that the alternative protocol can be used safely and effectively and kills the parasites within a reasonable amount of time in most dogs. She talked about the heartworm work being done through Toronto Humane Society’s outreach clinics, and pointed out that, for many dogs, the choice is not between melarsomine and the alternative protocol, but between the alternative protocol and no treatment at all. 

Dr. Linda Jacobson was the only speaker that touched the audience to applaud her in the middle of her presentation when addressing the importance of not using value laden language, and that the best treatments plans for dogs are made when you meet them and their pet parent in the place where they are.  After the talk, she received positive feedback from some of the most influential and important voices in the heartworm research community. 

Thank you, Dr. Linda Jacobson, for sharing your expertise on accessible veterinary care with others in a high-profile forum like this one. This highlights one of the many ways that our experts make Toronto Humane Society like no other.