Mosquitoes, Dogs, and Heartworm: Keep Your Dog Safe

Posted by Mark A. Puglisi, ACE on Wed, Jul 06, 2016 @ 08:15 AM

Mosquitoes are annoying at best and dangerous at worst. Nobody likes the itchy bites they give, but you may also be worried about mosquitoes spreading diseases. Thankfully, most mosquito bites are harmless in the United States because of organizations like the Centers for Disease Control. This organization works to stop the spread of diseases, including those carried by mosquitoes.

However, some mosquitoes may still transmit harmful infections-and not just to you. Mosquitoes can also infect your pets. In a previous post, we discussed how pets and pests interact. In this blog, we'll focus specifically on one of the most common mosquito-borne infections in dogs: heartworm. Read on to learn what it is and how to protect your pet.

What Is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworms are small parasites that take up residence inside the hearts and blood vessels of some mammals. Mostly they infect dogs, though animals like foxes, cats, and raccoons can also get them. An adult worm may be from a few inches to over a foot long, and the worms can live for five years.

The worms spread via mosquitoes. The offspring of the worms, called microfilaria, are tiny and live in the bloodstream of an infected animal. If a mosquito bites that animal, it may pick up microfilaria with the blood. The microfilaria grow within the mosquito for several days, and when the mosquito bites again, the microfilaria leave the mosquito and go into their new host.

Once inside the animal's bloodstream, they migrate into the heart or the biggest blood vessels to find a place to live. There, they grow into their adult form, mate with the other mature worms they came in with, and start producing their own microfilaria. After entering the dog, the worms will be fully grown in about six months.

Because the worms live in the dog's heart, they make it hard for the heart to function as it should. The worms clog parts of the heart, and blood cannot circulate throughout the dog's body properly. As a result, the other vital organs, like the kidneys or the lungs, may not get enough blood supply. If untreated, heartworms can have serious side effects, including death.

What Are the Symptoms of Heartworm Disease?

The symptoms of heartworm look very similar to the symptoms of other diseases. You may see:

  • Fainting
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty exercising
  • Coughing

The good news is there are blood tests that identify heartworm, so if you take your dog to the vet regularly, you can usually diagnose the issue and get treatment. Some vets even will do tests like X-rays or ultrasounds of the dog to look for heartworms.

How Do You Treat Heartworm Disease?

Unfortunately, if your dog shows symptoms, the disease is likely far along already. If a dog does not get treatment in time, the most you may be able to do is keep your pet comfortable for a few months until he or she passes away. Fortunately, most dogs can be treated successfully.

If your dog has heartworm disease, your vet will give the dog shots that will kill the adult worms. After the shots, while the worms die and decompose, you'll have to make your dog rest as much as possible. If the dog exercises, his or her fast heart rate may push the dead worms into the lungs' tiny blood vessels, blocking them. This can be deadly. You will have to restrict your dog's activity for a few weeks.

About one month after the treatment to kill the adult worms, the vet will give your dog medication to kill the microfilaria. Once they are gone, your dog should be much healthier, and your vet can start your dog on a heartworm prevention medicine to ensure the worms do not return. Most dogs are energetic and have a good appetite again after treatment.

How Can You Prevent Heartworm Disease?

Because heartworm is so serious, it's best to try to prevent it. Many of the techniques you already know for preventing mosquito bites still apply. For example, get rid of standing water in your yard (mosquitoes breed in standing water), and put screens on your windows. You can also avoid walking your pet during dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

However, don't try putting mosquito repellent made for humans on your dog. The chemicals in the repellent can hurt dogs. If you want to give your dog the same pest protection you enjoy, be aware that most bug repellents for dogs work on more than just fleas and ticks-many also repel mosquitoes.

If you live in an area where mosquitoes are prevalent, contact your vet about medications that will prevent heartworm from infesting your dog. However, one of your best options is to get rid of mosquitoes around your home. Call Greenleaf Organic Pest Management for help. We have been in business since 1998, and we can get rid of the mosquitoes in your yard and protect you and your dog.

Tags: Mosquitoes