One Mosquito Bite too Late: Why Heartworm Prevention Matters
Mosquitoes come with the territory in hot, humid Florida, but that doesn’t mean we have to like them or the diseases they can spread. Sure, entomologists may be able to proclaim some far-fetched advantages to having these insects around, but the transmission of heartworm disease will never be one of them.
The prevalence of heartworm is excessively high in our climate, but with diligent heartworm prevention, every pet owner can breathe (preferably through a screen) a deep sigh of relief.
All Together Now
April is National Heartworm Awareness Month. Why raise national awareness regarding this issue? Because heartworm disease can be fatal to your beloved pets, but it’s completely preventable via monthly medication and yearly blood tests.
Mosquitoes take a bite from an animal infected with heartworm disease. The microscopic worms are then deposited in the bloodstream of the mosquito’s next victim, where they mature over time. Eventually, the worms will travel to the lungs, heart chamber, and the surrounding blood vessels, but not before causing damage to other vital organs and arteries. There, they can grow up to 14 inches long and multiply by the hundreds.
Heartworm Prevention is Key
Undetected and untreated, adult worms can survive off of their animal host for over 5 years. While some symptoms are subtle or nonexistent prior to the late stages of infection, the following are most commonly observed:
- Breathing difficulties
- Weight loss
- Exhaustion after mild exercise
An estimated one million dogs are infected with heartworm disease in the United States. As it only takes one pesky mosquito to spread the disease, all pets should be protected.
Have you ever wondered why we test your pet for heartworm once a year? Because it takes about 6 months for an infected pet to have a positive reading on a heartworm test. It’s also important that all pets be “in the clear” before taking a heartworm preventive medication because an animal with a positive result could be at risk for a medical emergency if heartworm medication is given orally or topically.
What About Indoor Pets?
We’ve all been followed inside by a hungry mosquito. Where does that leave an indoor-only cat who’s not on a year-round heartworm preventive? Sadly, this scenario is not uncommon, and since there’s no treatment available for cats infected with heartworm disease, prevention is key. Otherwise, heartworms are fatal. Likewise, animals with thick coats are not immune to a bite from a hungry, infected mosquito.
Dogs can be treated for heartworm, but it can be costly and extensive. Since the cost of prevention is 15 times less than the cost of treatment, the answer is quite clear.
Heartworm prevention matters to us year-round, but when mosquitoes hit their peak in the summer months, we all have to be on our guard. Across all state lines, there are over 20 different varieties of mosquitoes that are active at various times throughout the year – and all types have the potential to infect your precious pet.