It’s that time of year again: Time for backyard barbecues, pool parties, and summer strolls. But all that outdoor time for your family—both human and animal—can lead to an increased risk of encountering mosquitoes (and being bitten by them).

Think a few red, itchy mosquito bites aren’t a big deal? Think again. Mosquitoes carry and transmit potentially deadly diseases to humans and pets.

 

10 things you might not know about mosquitoes:

  1. Only female mosquitoes bite.
  2. About 175 of the known 3,500 mosquito species can be found in the U.S.
  3. A mosquito can drink up to three times its weight in blood.
  4. Female mosquitoes can lay up to 300 eggs at a time.
  5. Many mosquito species will hibernate (not die) when temperatures dip below 50 degrees.
  6. Male mosquitoes only live for a maximum of about 10 days, while hibernating female mosquitoes can live up to 6 months. The average lifespan for a mosquito is less than 2 months.
  7. Mosquitoes can smell human breath through receptors in their antennae that detect the carbon dioxide that is released when we exhale.
  8. Mosquitoes are attracted to many of the more than 340 chemical odors produced by human skin. Some of their favorite smells are octenol (a chemical released in sweat), cholesterol, folic acid, skin lotions, perfumes, and some bacteria.
  9. Mosquitoes have heat sensors around their mouthparts that help them to detect the warmth of the blood inside a human or animal so they can locate the best capillaries from which to feed.
  10. Mosquitoes are considered the deadliest “animal” in the world, carrying and passing on malaria, which kills more than 1 million people every year. They also carry and pass on the potentially deadly heartworm disease to animals, including dogs and cats.

 

What is heartworm disease?

Heartworms are a type of roundworm that get their name because they live in the heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels of infected dogs, cats, and other animals.

Mosquitoes carry heartworm larvae. When a dog is bitten by a carrier mosquito, the larvae travel through her body until they reach the heart and lungs. Because dogs are natural hosts for heartworms, the heartworm larvae will stay in and around the heart and lungs until they mature into adult heartworms, a process that takes nearly 6 months. The spaghetti-like adult heartworms can be up to 12 inches long, and an infected dog can have up to 30 mature worms in her body.

Once the worms become adults, they begin to release immature heartworms into the dog’s bloodstream. When the dog is bitten by another mosquito, she can pass those larvae on to that mosquito, perpetuating the cycle.

Because cats are not natural hosts for heartworms, they are not as susceptible to the disease, but they can still be infected and suffer lifelong effects of the disease. Heartworm-positive cats will usually have only about three mature heartworms in their bodies because most of the worms don’t survive to the adult stage in felines.

How is heartworm disease diagnosed?

Because it can take several months before heartworm larvae grow large enough to begin causing obvious outward symptoms, there are few (if any) early signs of heartworm disease. A heartworm-positive dog might cough, be intolerant to exercise, or have poor body condition.

For dogs, there is a heartworm blood test available. We recommend this test annually. The earlier a dog is diagnosed, the better his chances of making a complete recovery.

A cat with heartworm disease might cough or have difficulty breathing, have difficulty walking, vomit or have diarrhea, have a decreased appetite, lose weight, go blind, have seizures, faint, collapse suddenly, or even die. Because the signs vary so widely, heartworm disease in cats is difficult to diagnose.

If we suspect your cat might be infected with heartworms, we may conduct blood tests, urinalysis, X-ray, and/or ultrasound to confirm our suspicions.

 

How is heartworm disease treated?

Heartworm disease can be treated in dogs, but the treatment is difficult and expensive, and heartworm-positive dogs often suffer lifelong health implications even after treatment concludes and the heartworms are gone.

Depending on how advanced your dog’s heartworm infection is, we may use antibiotics, heartworm preventives, and steroids before treating the adult worms. After that, we’ll begin a 60+ day series of drug injections intended to kill the adult worms. At the conclusion of the treatment, we’ll retest for heartworms and then again 6 months later.

There is no treatment for cats with heartworm disease, and the canine medication is toxic to felines. If we confirm that a cat has heartworm disease, we’ll stabilize her, work to treat her symptoms, and develop a plan to manage those symptoms for the remainder of the cat’s life.

 

Can heartworm disease be prevented?

While heartworm disease can cause lifelong health problems for dogs and cats, and it can even lead to death, this terrible infection is preventable. Be sure to give your dogs and cats a regular heartworm preventive medication for year-round protection.

 

Call our office at 615-383-1000 to discuss the heartworm preventive medication that’s best for your pet.