Mosquitoes and Heartworm Disease

By Megan Schneider D.V.M

April 6, 2109

So, what are heartworms?

Their name makes them sound almost cute and loveable, but they are NOT lovebugs! Instead, they are a parasite spread through mosquito bites.

Here in Arizona, where it is typically very dry, we have a reputation for being relatively “bug free.”  But, as anyone who lives here (especially through the spring and fall) can attest to, we most definitely have mosquitos!  And we definitely have heartworms.  Even the coyotes carry this parasite around.  Since it is spread through mosquitos – any dog is at risk for catching it.  Even dogs who have never left their backyard can catch this bug.

Once in the dog’s body heartworms set up shop outside the heart (thus their name) and over time they interfere with blood flow to the lungs. Like a pipe slowly clogging with sludge, as the parasite lives and multiplies in the body it crowds the blood vessels, and the heart must work harder and harder to pump blood through the mass of parasites and into the lungs.  This extra work will eventually cause the heart to fail.

Symptoms of heartworm disease can be very subtle, in the very early stages, there may not be any symptoms at all.  As the parasite load grows you may notice a slow down in activity or energy level, or a persistent cough.  Eventually, when the heart begins to fail, you may notice the belly looking swollen as fluid backs up, and your dog may begin to have trouble breathing – even when at rest.

Treating heartworm disease is a long, potentially dangerous, and a frequently expensive process.  Treatment will eliminate the parasite from the body, but it cannot undo the damage already done to the heart. Meanwhile, preventing heartworm disease is relatively easy and comparatively inexpensive. Usually, this is as simple as giving your dog a chewable tablet once a month.  We do recommend running testing for heartworm disease prior to starting treatment, and annually thereafter, to ensure pets are staying healthy and parasite free.

 

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