Most humans think of mosquitos as being annoying pests that, if you are unlucky, can give you an incredibly itchy and irritating bite. However, mosquitos can carry diseases that are harmful to humans and are the primary carrier of heartworms which can be fatal for your pet. Parasite prevention for pets should always include protection against mosquitos all year round. This is because despite being more prevalent in summer, mosquitos have actually been found to live all year round, even in the middle of winter. Fortunately, there are several different preventatives available that, when administered properly, can ensure that your pet is fully protected against experiencing heartworms as a result of being bitten by a mosquito.
Here’s what you need to know about the risks posed by mosquitos and what you can do to keep yourself and your pet safe.
How are mosquitos harmful to humans?
Female mosquitos bite humans in order to consume their blood. When you are bitten, you will almost certainly experience irritation in the form of swelling and itchiness, but mosquitos can also carry some serious and potentially even deadly diseases. They can also trigger a harmful allergic response in some people.
Some of the many diseases that can be passed from mosquitos to humans include:
- Dengue fever
- Yellow fever
- West Nile virus
- Zike virus
There are many different forms of human mosquito repellent and your doctor will be able to advise you which is best for you.
What are heartworms and how do mosquitos cause them?
Heartworms are one of the most dangerous types of parasites, and while they can affect cats and ferrets, they are particularly common in dogs who are their natural host. Heartworms are transmitted through the bite of mosquitos, who take some immature heartworm into their bodies when they feed on an infected animal. When they move onto a new host, they automatically transfer some heartworm larvae into them, transmitting the disease.
Once the immature heartworm, called microfilariae, passes into your pet’s bloodstream they will travel through it until they reach the blood vessels that serve the heart and lungs. It’s here that they will grow and mature into adults who can reproduce themselves – which they will do in large numbers. Left untreated, it isn’t unusual for a dog to have as many as 100 heartworms.
Heartworms are dangerous because not only do they use your pet’s blood to obtain their nutrients, but as they grow in size (up to 13 inches in length) and number, they begin to block the blood vessels, preventing blood from flowing around their body properly. This causes damage to occur to your pet’s organs and eventually, this can become so severe that the organs start to fail. In some cases, the blood flow can become completely blocked – a scenario referred to as caval syndrome which is normally deadly. Without treatment, heartworm infection is near.
How to protect your pet from heartworms
Fortunately, there are a few different preventatives that have been proven to stop animals from contracting heartworms. Most are orally taken medications that must be administered on time every 30 days to ensure that your pet remains fully protected against heartworms at all times. However, there are now a couple of alternatives that can protect your pet for 6 or even 12 months at a time. These are available as an injection that must be administered by your vet.
Regular heartworm testing
Your vet will also recommend that your pet has annual heartworm tests, which are normally incorporated into their usual annual wellness check. Heartworm prevalence is increasing and unfortunately, many owners do not take the responsible step of administering preventatives for their pets. Unfortunately, heartworm infections are quite difficult to detect. This is because the early symptoms of the condition are very subtle and easily overlooked. This means that the infection can become quite advanced before it is detected, enabling considerable damage to occur to your pet’s health before you realize that they need treatment. It also takes around 6 months for heartworms to mature into adults, which is when they start to cause signs of their presence.
Heartworm testing is a simple process that can detect the presence of adult heartworms, meaning that you can ensure that your pet gets the medical attention that they need to deal with the problem early on before they suffer from irreparable damage to their bodies. It can also prevent them from needing lengthy, unpleasant, risky, and expensive treatment.
It is very advisable to be aware of the symptoms of heartworms. These include:
- A persistent, soft cough
- Unwillingness to exercise
- Weight loss
- Difficulty breathing
- Bulging ribs
If your pet experiences any of these symptoms, it is advisable to schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.
If you would like to learn more about heartworms, or if you have concerns about your pet and would like a professional opinion, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our knowledgeable veterinary team.