Part of loving and caring for our pets is protecting them from common illnesses. It’s especially important to protect them from illnesses that can be serious or even fatal, like heartworm. Mosquito bites from infected mosquitoes are the only way that dogs contract heartworm disease. When a mosquito feeds on the blood of a heartworm-infected animal, it takes in tiny baby heartworms called microfilariae. Then, it passes these microscopic worms to other animals that it bites.
Heartworm is most common in areas with lots of mosquito activity, but it has been reported in all 50 states. Not all mosquitoes carry heartworms, but several common types of mosquitoes are carriers.
Aedes mosquitoes are one known carrier of heartworm. These have narrow, dark-colored bodies with little white spots on their sides and legs. They are commonly known as the yellow fever mosquito, since they can transmit yellow fever as well as dengue and Zika. They are most commonly found throughout the southern and southeastern United States.
Another common mosquito known to carry heartworm is the anopheles mosquito. These mosquitoes live all over the United States. Lighter in color than their aedes cousins, they are more of a tan shade of brown, without spots or stripes. Anopheles mosquitoes can carry and transmit malaria.
Mosquitoes can be a big problem for both people and pets. They can transmit several different harmful diseases and bacteria. Heartworm is not usually passed to humans, but it is very common for mosquitoes to pass it to dogs. Cats can also get heartworm from mosquito bites, although they aren’t natural heartworm hosts. For this reason, they aren’t usually as badly affected by these parasites as dogs are.
Dogs can get very sick or even die from heartworm. These parasites cause lung damage and heart failure in dogs over time. Even when heartworms don’t kill a dog, they can still cause lots of pain and suffering.
Additionally, it is expensive and time-consuming to treat heartworm in an animal. Preventing heartworms, on the other hand, is relatively easy and inexpensive. That’s why most veterinarians consider annual heartworm tests and monthly preventative medications to be necessary care for dogs.
Regular vet visits and monthly preventative medication will help to keep your beloved pets safe from heartworm. Another important part of keeping them safe is to keep mosquito populations low around your home.
There are lots of things you can do to cut down on the number of mosquitoes living in your yard. These include the following:
- Keep your grass cut short and bushes trimmed. This reduces the number of places where mosquitoes can hide out.
- Dump out standing water from any receptacles that collect water after a rain, or after running your sprinklers. This might include bird baths or planters in the yard along with children’s toys and old tires. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water.
- Check your gutters. Blocked gutters are a top source of unknown standing water that breeds mosquitoes.
- Resolve any drainage issues in your yard—any areas that tend to stay damp or muddy after a rain. Mosquitoes need water to breed, and certain types can even breed in the small amount of water found in damp leaves!
- If you have a pond in your yard that draws mosquitoes, consider adding a pump or fountain feature to keep the water moving. Mosquito eggs typically can’t survive in flowing water. You might also stock your pond with certain types of fish that feed on mosquito larvae.
All of these steps will help to keep mosquito populations low around your home. During mosquito season, however, their populations can quickly grow out of control. Mosquitoes are active and breeding during the warmer months of the year. In the southern U.S., mosquito season can be the majority of the year, lasting from March until November!
Professional mosquito control during the warmer months will go a long way toward protecting your pets from heartworm. It will also enable you to enjoy your yard without having to worry as much about itchy, annoying mosquito bites.
Heartworm Symptoms in Dogs
How can you know if your dog has heartworms? The best way to know is through annual heartworm tests at the vet, since heartworm symptoms in dogs don’t show up right away. After your dog is bitten by a heartworm-carrying mosquito, it could be six months or more before noticeable symptoms begin. This is how long it takes for the heartworms in your pet’s body to mature into adults that are large enough to cause visible problems.
When a heartworm-carrying mosquito bites a dog, it transmits baby heartworms that are microscopic in size. These are called microfilariae, and it takes six to seven months for them to grow into adult heartworms within the dog’s body. Adult heartworms are about a foot long and look something like a piece of cooked spaghetti. Once they reach this stage of their life cycle within a dog’s bloodstream, they can mate and produce more microfilariae.
Dogs that are heartworm-positive can have hundreds of heartworms living inside their bodies. Adult heartworms can live for years, and females can produce millions of babies. As they grow larger, heartworms take up residence in the arteries of the lungs and the heart. They can restrict the flow of blood between these two essential organs. They can also cause blood clots and inflammation. Over time, they cause heart failure, which will eventually kill the dog.
These problems don’t all happen at once. At first, when your dog has heartworms, it probably won’t show any symptoms at all. The very first symptom of heartworm infection in dogs is usually a light, intermittent cough.
Over time, the cough will become heavier and more persistent. The dog will start to show fatigue and less interest in food. It will have more trouble breathing and might start losing weight. A dog that is very sick with heartworms might even start coughing up blood.
At this point, when the dog is in the later stages of heartworm disease, it may be too late to treat the illness. Even when heartworm treatment is successful, it can be very expensive and prolonged. Through it all, the dog experiences plenty of suffering and discomfort. It’s much better to prevent your dog from getting heartworms in the first place.
Preventing heartworm involves regular visits to the vet, who can give your dog yearly tests to detect the presence of heartworms. This helps to catch heartworm infections even in their earliest stages, when they can be treated most quickly and easily. The vet will also prescribe monthly preventative medication to keep your dog heartworm-free.
Mosquito control is the other important part of preventing heartworm in your pets. Dumping out standing water, trimming your grass and landscaping, and hiring a specialist to treat pests during mosquito season will all help keep mosquito populations low. This, in turn, will help to keep your beloved pets safe from dangerous heartworm disease.
Heartworm in Cats
Heartworm in cats is rare, since cats are not natural heartworm hosts. Baby heartworms rarely have a chance to mature to adulthood within a cat’s bloodstream. But heartworm illness is not unheard of in cats. Cats do sometimes get sick from heartworms, which means they are at risk for the disease.
Cats that are sick from heartworms might cough or wheeze a lot. They also might vomit frequently and start losing weight as the disease progresses. Unfortunately, while there is a treatment for dogs with heartworm disease, there isn’t any approved drug treatment for cats that contract heartworms. It is also harder for veterinarians to detect heartworms in cats than in dogs.
All of this is why mosquito control becomes even more important if you have dogs and cats as pets. The best way to treat heartworm is to prevent it, which means cutting down on the mosquitoes that transmit this deadly disease.
Keeping mosquito populations under control in your yard is an essential part of keeping your beloved pets safe from heartworm. Simple steps you can take yourself, like dumping out standing water after it rains, combined with professional pest treatments are the best way to cut down on the number of mosquitoes that could make your pets sick.
Can Humans Get Heartworm?
If you’ve had a pet that suffered from heartworm disease, it’s natural to wonder, can humans get heartworm? Just like with cats, heartworm is very rare in humans, but it does happen sometimes. On the rare occasion that people have contracted heartworms, they have gotten them the same way as dogs and cats: A heartworm-carrying mosquito bites them.
It’s important to note that dogs, cats and people get heartworms only from mosquitoes. They can’t pass heartworms to each other, or to other animals. When people get heartworm, the illness causes the same type of lung damage that it causes in dogs.
Heartworms are dangerous, and they can cause serious illness in several types of mammals. But it’s much more common for humans to contract other serious illnesses from mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are carriers of dengue and yellow fever, for example. They are also known to transmit malaria and the Zika virus.
Beyond causing potentially serious illnesses, mosquitoes are just plain irritating. There’s nothing worse than heading outside to do some yard work or relax on the patio, only to spend the entire time slapping at pesky mosquitoes. Within minutes, you’re covered in itchy, swollen welts from their bites. It’s enough to keep you indoors all summer long!
You don’t have to put up with mosquitoes, though. There are several things you can do to keep these pests away from your home and yard. To keep mosquitoes away from your deck and yard, you can trim your grass and bushes, dump out standing water and fix any drainage issues on your property. You can also sign up for ongoing mosquito control. During mosquito season, this is the best way to protect your pets from heartworm while saving yourself the irritation that mosquitoes cause.
ABC Can Control the Mosquitoes on Your Property
It is nearly impossible to remove all the mosquitoes in an area, but there are ways you can make your yard less attractive to these pests. At ABC Home & Commercial Services, we have a variety of mosquito treatments available. This way, you can get rid of the current population of mosquitoes and prevent future generations.