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Veterinarian's Eyes Opened to HARD

When a cat presented with coughing and a voice change, Dr. Caroline Simard says she never considered heartworms might be the cause. She thought it might be asthma and decided to do some blood work. "Totally by mistake I included the heartworm antigen test, and it came back positive," she said. The cat, it turned out, had Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease, or HARD.

Dr. Simard practiced in Montreal, Canada, for 12 years before moving to Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic in Pittsburgh, Pa., three years ago. "In Canada, because it is colder, veterinarians mostly recommend giving preventives during the summer. Any news of prevention and products takes a few years to get up there, and I just hadn't been exposed to it," she said. Dr. Simard had only ever seen three cases of heartworms, and all were canine in Pittsburgh.

Pandora, a 10-year-old cat, started breathing heavily, gagging and coughing around December of last year. Pandora had never had any health problems before, so her owner, Carrie Rudolph, began to worry when Pandora's condition didn't improve. She made an appointment with Dr. Simard in February, and before her visit did some research on the Internet. She read online that heartworms could be the cause of Pandora's distress, but knew heartworms were rare in felines, so she didn't bring it up in her visit.

When Dr. Simard alerted Rudolph to Pandora's diagnosis, she wasn't shocked. "I had researched feline heartworm disease and thought it might be one of the possibilities, but I've since done more research and was surprised to learn that I don't live in an area with high incidence," Rudolph said.

Dr. Simard added, "I had heard about HARD, but this case absolutely changed my thinking. I've since put my own cats on prevention, and I've been telling this story to all my feline clients, recommending prevention." Pandora is now receiving a steroid treatment and is no longer showing signs of respiratory distress. Dr. Simard tested Rudolph's other two cats for heartworms. Both of the tests came back negative, and the cats are now on prevention.



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