Heartworm medicine shortage leaves pets at risk

Commett needs medicine to cure his heartworm.
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INDIANAPOLIS - A very important medicine that could save your dog's life is in short supply.

"He's a real sweet dog," said Adam Garrett with Indianapolis Animal Care and Control.

Garrett was speaking about Commett, a stray that's been at the shelter since February. On the inside, though, Commett has a disease that, if left untreated, will kill him.

"He is one that didn't pass the heartworm test," Garrett said.

But the medicine that could cure Commett, called Immiticide, is barely available. That's because the company that makes it, Merial, announced in August problems at its plant would disrupt supply for weeks, maybe even months.

That's why Animal Care and Control is trying to get heartworm positive dogs, like Commett, into foster homes quickly.

"They have to stay real calm," says Garrett of dogs with the disease.

If not, the heartworm can get worse, beyond the point of repair.

"We certainly don't want to have to euthanize any animals, especially because they have heartworm disease," says Garrett.

"Heartworm disease is a nasty disease," explained Dr. Christine Heinz from the Broad Ripple Animal Clinic.

But veterinarians everywhere will have a difficult time treating dogs if the Immiticide shortage continues. The Broad Ripple Animal Clinic only has a small supply left. It's the same story at other veterinarian offices across the country.

"We're very lucky in that we don't see it very often and it's very, very possible that the next time we have a patient, you know, that the shortage may be done and over with," said Heinz.

But Heinz says if they suddenly had too many heartworm cases at once, deciding which dogs get the remaining medicine first would not be easy.

"I don't know how we would how, you would be able to make that decision," Heinz said. "I think a lot of it would probably be based on need."

With the Immiticide shortage, vets say it's even more important your dogs gets his monthly heartworm preventative.

"To not give that preventative, especially for how effective they are at preventing this disease, would be a huge detriment unfortunately," Heinz said.

A detriment heartworm-positive dogs like Commett are facing.

"Hopefully somebody will come down here and take a chance on him, sooner rather than later, Right, bud? Right?" says Garrett, looking at the dog whose tail wags happily.

A home could buy Commett more time to ride out the shortage of the medicine he needs to save his life.

Veterinarians do have access to a limited amount of Immiticide from a European manufacturer for the most critical cases. It's not FDA approved, but because of the need for the medicine, the FDA has agreed to allow it in limited amounts.