Not only are mosquitoes an annoying pest to our furry friends and us, but they can also actually transmit a parasite called heartworm.
The heartworm parasite (Dirofilaria immitis) is a potentially life-threatening blood-parasite that can be transmitted to your pet through a mosquito bite.
The mosquito acts as an intermediate host to the heartworm parasite. It spreads the parasite by biting and ingesting blood, infected with the offspring (microfilariae) of the heartworm, and then biting another dog, which introduces the microfilariae into their bloodstream. Heartworm disease is more commonly seen where mosquitoes are prevalent, including the southern Great Lakes in Ontario. Heartworm is much more common in dogs, but can still occur in cats.
Adult heartworm lives in the heart, pulmonary arteries and large blood vessels. Microfilariae can be found in small blood vessels and the circulating bloodstream. It can take several years to see clinical signs of an infection. Common symptoms include a dry cough, shortness of breath, weakness etc., particularly following exercise. The heartworm parasite clogs blood vessels and therefore blocks blood supply to organs, resulting in damage.
A simple blood test can be performed by your Veterinarian to diagnose this disease. Pets born after November of that year should be tested because the heartworm takes 5-7 months to mature and become detected by the test. The test should then be performed annually in the springtime.
There are now several types and forms of heartworm prevention available. Depending on whether your pet has any allergies and personal preference, topical and oral preventatives can be used. Talk to us today if you have any questions or concerns about testing and prevention for heartworm!
Written by Briarwood Animal Hospital
Source: Life-Learn “Heartworm Disease in Dogs”