American Heartworm Society Encourages prevention to Michigan dog owners
The beginning of August may mean the dog days of summer are here, but the American Heartworm Society (AHS) is warning Michigan pet owners not to be laid-back about heartworm protection. Mosquitoes have been plentiful in the Midwest this summer, thanks to a wet spring that yielded standing water where mosquitoes can breed. And, unfortunately for pets, mosquitoes are part of the heartworm disease cycle.
“A mosquito bite can be much more than a source of discomfort to dogs that aren’t on heartworm prevention, because mosquitoes are key players in the spread of heartworm disease,” warns AHS president Wallace Graham, DVM. “Heartworm disease is extremely serious, and can be fatal to dogs as well as cats.” Wallace adds that while canine heartworm disease can be treated, the treatment is expensive and complex. In addition, some damage caused by heartworm to the dog’s organs and circulatory system can be permanent.
Year-round prevention recommended
“The good news is that heartworm is a preventable disease,” states Graham. “That’s why the American Heartworm Society’s guidelines recommend year-round administration of heartworm preventives. You never know exactly when the season starts and ends, so the best course is to follow routine, year-round administration rather than giving preventives on a seasonal basis.” This, he adds, is true in both wet, mosquito-ridden years as well as dry years.
Graham also advises against mosquito repellents or keeping dogs indoors as sole strategies for heartworm prevention. “Just like us, dogs love to be outside, and daily walks or runs are important to keeping them happy and healthy. However, it only takes one bite from an infected mosquito to spread the disease, so relying on indoor strategies or using mosquito sprays does not ensure adequate protection.
Owners urged to stay on schedule
Finally Graham stresses the importance of making heartworm prevention routine. “There are many options for heartworm prevention, including chewable tablets, topical medications and injections. Whatever product is preferred, it’s essential that owners keep to the recommended schedule for heartworm prevention.” Missing a dose or giving the dose late can put pets at risk. By giving the pet its medication on the same day of the month and using a medication reminder system, owners can make routine administration a healthy habit.
Facts about mosquitoes and heartworm disease
While most pet owners have heard of heartworm, not all know the facts about the disease’s transmission. Graham shares the following facts:
• Heartworm disease cannot be transmitted directly from one infected dog to another—the mosquito is a necessary “go-between.”
• The gut of a mosquito is a nursery for baby heartworms. Mosquitoes ingest heartworm larvae at one meal, then transmit larvae that have advanced to an infective stage to other dogs several weeks later.
• Only female mosquitoes feed on blood and spread heartworm.
• While most adult female mosquitoes live 2–3 weeks, species that over-winter in garages, culverts and attics can live as long as 6 months.
• Mosquitoes must have water to complete their life cycle, and typically breed in standing or stagnant water. This includes backyard water sources like baby pools, flowerpots, water cans and birdbaths, as well as puddles and tree holes.
• Once infected with heartworm, it takes 5–7 months for a dog to test positive for heartworm. (For this reason, AHS recommends annual heartworm testing).
For more information, pet owners can visit heartwormsociety.org.