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Giving Back – Dr. Varma’s Adventure

By November 23, 2015 December 3rd, 2015 Uncategorized

On Halloween weekend of this year, I had the amazing opportunity to take part in a venture, to help dogs and cats of the First Nations community on Walpole Island. Welland and district SPCA (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) owns the only spay/neuter surgical mobile unit in Ontario, which, as you can imagine, sounds like an extremely valuable asset. This was all made possible through the generosity of Petsmart Charities of Canada, and supporters of the Welland and District Humane Society.

The College of Veterinarians of Ontario has accredited this mobile unit for First Nations communities where Veterinary services are limited, to help control overpopulation and the continued spread of disease, such as Heartworm.

What did we do there?

With a volunteer team of veterinarians, veterinary technicians, humane society staff, and other animal care assistants, we got through over 100 Wellness exams (physical exam, vaccinations, heartworm testing, heartworm prevention, deworming), and over 30 spay/neuter surgeries of dogs and cats that weekend, who had received minimal veterinary care, or none at all in their lives.

Why is this project important? How will this directly impact YOUR community and pets?

Public health is a huge aspect of veterinary medicine. This is the main reason we vaccinate our pets for Rabies and deworm our pets regularly. The idea of ‘herd health’ applies to human medicine as well, where a certain percentage of the population must be vaccinated in order to prevent the spread of disease from one region to another. A similar idea applies to heartworm disease. Even as a veterinarian, I was not fully aware of the prevalence of heartworm positive dogs in Ontario until I traveled to Caledonia, and then Walpole Island.

Dr. Tammy Hornak, of Grand River Veterinary Hospital in Caledonia, and Inspector John Greer, of the Welland & District Humane Society are the lead organizers of the mobile surgical unit project. Dr. Hornak treats multiple heartworm-positive dogs annually in Caledonia, mainly through fundraising, and was kind enough to educate me more on the deadly disease.

Of the wellness exams we did over the weekend where Heartworm prevention was seldom practiced, we diagnosed ~90% of dogs over 2 years old as heartworm-positive. Don’t forget, cats are also susceptible to heartworm disease, which can cause them to develop severe respiratory illness.

As we know, mosquitoes are the main vectors in the transmission of heartworm. Mosquitoes know no boundaries when it comes to spreading disease, and that makes all of our pets in the GTA susceptible to Heartworm, as long as it is present in neighbouring communities. As long as heartworm positive dogs exist, they are a source of contagion, and the spread of disease is inevitable

I have tremendous respect for everyone who was involved in the Welland & District SPCA Community Outreach Program throughout this year, and am so grateful that I could be a part of one of their project weekends. I am fully on board with their mission after experiencing, first-hand, the passion and compassion with which everything was dealt. This Program is making an impact on public health & the health of pets in all of Ontario.

Dr. Ashna Varma, BVM&S, MRCVS

Charity Fundraising & Donations

Donating to the Welland & District SPCA Mobile Surgical Unit gives this team a chance to continue the work they started this year, as resources and funds are needed. You will be contributing to the treatment, disease prevention, overpopulation of pets, of those, who cannot afford veterinary care, and above all, to public health.

To Make a Donation:


  1. Feline Heartworm Disease: Basics to Breakthroughs. Clarke Atkins. ACVIM 2015.
  2. Canine Heartworm Disease – What Has Changed? Clarke Atkins. ACVIM 2015.

Client Education

What Happens in Heartworm Disease.

More information on the Welland & District SPCA, and Mobile Surgical Unit

(c) Erin Mills Pet Hospital

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