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Summer is here in full force.
An evening stroll with your dog can quickly turn into a feeding frenzy for hungry mosquitoes. Not only is this a nuisance to you and your pets, but can be life threatening.
You may have heard of the Zika virus which is spread by mosquitos. Although this has yet to be a problem for our four legged family members, there is still one life threatening infection they can get from a mosquito bite...Heartworm Disease.
Clay County has one of the highest incidents of Heartworm positive dogs in the state of Indiana. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, of the dogs tested for heartworms in Clay County, 1 in 24 is positive. Many of the dogs that test negative are on a monthly preventative. It is common for dogs that are not on a preventative to have heartworms.
Dogs are a natural host for heartworms with the mosquito being the necessary intermediate host. A mosquito bites a dog that has heartworms and inadvertently picks up a microfilaria, (baby heartworm). After processing the larva to the next larva stage inside the mosquitos' stomach, he transfers the larva to a new dog with the next blood meal. During a six-month period of growth and development, causing disease and trauma, the larva finds its way to the dogs' heart where it grows into an adult worm. There will be no obvious signs that your dog is infected with heartworms at this stage. Adult worms are large, like the size of a strand of spaghetti. Once there are male and female worms, they produce offspring that circulate in the blood of the dog. Finally, a mosquito, while taking a blood meal, picks up this larva and the process starts all over again.
Thus, the life cycle of the Heartworm and how your dog is infected.
Because the worms are large and live in the heart and the blood vessels going from the heart to the lungs, heart disease (Congested Heart Failure) or lung disease are the primary concerns. Heartworms do kill dogs. There is a treatment for heartworms but it is expensive and takes a few months to eliminate all the worms. The treatment has potential risks. Remember these are large worms and when they die there is no "exit" from the body, they have to be disintegrated and cleared from the heart by blood cells whose job it is to clean up the blood vessels. Some of the damage caused to the heart and blood vessels does not go away and after treatment, dogs can be left with heart disease. Fortunately, Heartworms are easy and relatively inexpensive to prevent with monthly products.
All dogs should be on a monthly preventative; some are chewable tablets while others are topical, that are applied to the skin over the shoulders once a month. Preventatives are given year around since now "cool" weather mosquitoes can transmit heartworms. Those "cool "weather mosquitoes are the ones you see in the winter when we have a warm spell. Prevention must be given every month. Heartworm preventatives only work on the immature heartworms, once they become adults it will not work and your dog will need to go through the treatment for adult worms. The preventatives kill the immature heartworms(larva), if your dog is bitten by a mosquito a couple days after the preventative, the new larva will grow until the next month's dose. The preventative keeps the larva from maturing into adults.
Heartworms are a prime example of that age-old adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." For dog residents of Clay County, it is recommended they start preventatives as puppies and stay on for their lifetime. The American Heartworm Association recommends preventatives and annual Blood test to insure that a dog does not acquire heartworms. For our feline friends, heartworm also can pose a health risk. It is recommended you consult with your veterinarian about the appropriate preventative and testing for your pets.
So for now, enjoy the marvels of summer and keep your pets protected.
Dr. Nancy Schenck, D.V.M., of Four Loving Paws Veterinary Services, Inc., can be reached at 812-448-1415. If you have a question or pet-related topic for Dr. Schenck to discuss in an upcoming article, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.