Remember that mild winter we just had? Higher than average temperatures combined with more rain than usual were together kind to the population of parasites that people, especially dog owners, hate: mosquitoes.
Everyone dislikes mosquitoes, those whiny buzzy blood sucking pests that do more than cause itchy welts and ruin your summer cookouts. Mosquitoes are a vector for serious disease and if you have a dog, canine heartworm disease needs to be on your radar.
Heartworms live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of infected dogs, where they interfere with organ function and blood flow. Left untreated, adult worms continue to produce offspring and dogs with severe infections can have hundreds of worms in their bodies. Here’s where mosquitoes come in: they carry the immature form of the parasite, microscopic baby worm called microfilaria. When they take a blood meal, mosquitoes can pass these baby worms on to coyotes, foxes, wolves and domestic dogs.
CAPC, the Companion Animal Parasite Council, is predicting above average caseloads for heartworm disease this year. While this is true for the whole country, Atlantic Coast states are among the key areas of concern.
So what does this mean for your dog?
First, make sure your dog is free of heartworm disease. Part of the yearly visit is an in-house blood test called a 4dx. This diagnostic test uses a few drops of blood and gives results in about ten minutes. In addition for testing for heartworm disease, the 4dx also screens for Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Erlichiosis, all of which are tick-borne diseases. Even if your dog has been on heartworm prevention continuously, he should still have this test once a year.
Once the test is negative, choose the prevention that best works for you.
Oral preventive,s such as Sentinel, are given monthly. This kind of prevention is extremely effective when given as directed, but compliance tends to be an issue. One or more missed or late pills can put your dog at risk. These types of preventives are combined with monthly intestinal parasite control and some products also offer flea protection in the form of a medication that breaks the life cycle of the flea and prevents female fleas from laying viable eggs. These oral products do not kill adult fleas and still require the flea to bite your pet.
Another option for most dogs is Proheart-6. This is an injectable given at our office that confers protection against heartworm disease for six months. It also removes active hookworm infections. Proheart does not offer protection against fleas or ticks. Almost all dogs are candidates for this kind of prevention. Click the link to read more about Proheart-6 and which pets are and are not candidates.
Finally, know the symptoms of canine heartworm disease. The first sign we usually see is coughing and shortness of breath. Inactive dogs may not show this symptom until the infection has become severe. Active dogs will have this symptom earlier and with fewer worms. As the disease progresses, the adult worms can grow up to 14 inches long, can impede blood flow, compromise circulation, increase the tendency for abnormal clots to form, cause inflammation, scarring and thickening of the arteries and can even break off and obstruct blood vessels. Physical signs of advanced heartworm disease include intolerance of exercise, fluid build up in the chest, nose bleeds and clotting problems and sudden death.
Mosquitoes can also spread disease to humans and horses. You can further protect your dogs, self and family by taking steps to reduce mosquito breeding opportunities. Eliminate standing water, as this parasite requires it to lay and hatch their eggs. Change water in bird baths, plant trays, fountains, etc on a weekly basis. If you have ornamental ponds or rain barrels, add goldfish to eat the larvae. Keep windows screened to keep adults out of your home.