According to the LA Times, a relatively new breed of mosquitoes has taken over Southern California. This invasive breed is called Aedes Aegyptai and there have been multiple reports of its migration to Orange County. Unlike other mosquitoes, they bite during the day and mostly on the lower leg and ankle region. While mosquitoes can be itchy and annoying for us, they may be a life-threatening problem for our pets. The bloodthirsty pests are known to and infect dogs and cats with microfilaria, or heartworm larvae.
What is heartworm?
Heartworm is a deadly disease that causes long-lasting damage to an animal’s internal organs. Once the worms have matured, usually within 3-4 months, they can grow up to 12 inches long and survive for many years. They can infect and cause major damage to vital organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, and kidney. Dogs are more commonly affected by heartworm disease than cats, but it’s still possible for cats to get heartworm, too.
Symptoms of heartworm include loss of breath, lethargy, and a persistent cough. At first, however, there may be no symptoms of heartworm at all. That’s why it’s important to get your pets seen by a veterinarian regularly.
How do I prevent heartworm?
Once your pet is old enough, start getting them tested regularly. If you’re able to catch the infection early on, you can destroy the larvae and prevent heartworm disease.
Your cat or dog veterinarian can help keep these parasites at bay by administering a shot of Moxidectin every six months. It is a neurotoxin that shocks and kills the heartworm larvae before it can reach the internal organs. Another way to prevent heartworm is feeding your pet chewables that also kill off the larvae. While these medications can prevent heartworm, they are still toxins. Ask your veterinarian about how to use them correctly, so you don’t compromise your pet’s immune system.
Since heartworm is carried through mosquitoes, it’s more commonly spread during the hot season and warm climates. By keeping your home clean and mosquito-free, you can also reduce the risk of heartworm infection for your dog or cat. For example, if you have a pool, drain it to keep mosquitoes from breeding close by.
Can heartworm be treated?
Heartworm treatment exists, but it can be costly and dangerous to administer. It is a form of arsenic that is injected into the animal to kill off the worms, but it can also hurt your pet. Prevention is the key to keeping your dog or cat happy and healthy.
Getting bit by mosquitoes is no fun, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the last of the summer sun! As long as you are taking preventative measures to ward off icky heartworm, you can still go outside with your furry companion. If you have questions about heartworm or animal care, Dr. Lopez is a veterinarian in Anaheim who can help you. Make an appointment today!