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By Dr. Helen Hu, Veterinarian

Now that we have flown into June, you might be longingly visualizing idyllic long summer days outside. While summer is filled with the good things of life such as picnics, barbeques, and long walks in the cool of the evening, these moments can be accompanied with the bite of the mosquito. And where there are mosquitoes, there exists the threat of mosquito-borne diseases.  Mosquitoes are not known to be picky about choosing their victims be they human, dog, or cat. There is one very important mosquito-borne disease that can affect your pet—heartworm disease.

It is extremely important to make sure that your four-legged companion is protected against this serious and potentially fatal condition.  Heartworm disease has been routinely documented in Maryland, and Huffard Animal Hospital treats several cases every year.  Mosquitoes are the culprits in the spread of heartworm disease.  They can harbor microscopic heartworm larvae known as microfilaria. It just takes one mosquito bite from an infected mosquito to deposit the microfilaria into your pet.

The dog is the natural host for heartworms, which means that the microfilaria mature into foot-long adults that take up residence in the heart. There, they will mate, reproduce, and multiply causing a massive congestion of heartworms. This congestion will lead to lung and heart disease, and progress eventually to heart failure and even death if left undiagnosed and untreated.  While heartworm treatment is available and most successful if implemented early in the disease process, prevention is the best protection.

Cat lovers, your cat is not off the hook. While cats are not the typical host for heartworms, the few adult heartworms and immature worms that they may acquire can lead to significant damage in the form of a condition known as heartworm associated respiratory disease and cause damage to other organs.  “But, Doc, my cat is indoor only,” you say. Mosquitoes frequently make their way indoor as well.  (I can personally attest to that fact.) Unfortunately, there are no treatment options available for cats affected with heartworms so prevention is the only way to protect them.

How can you protect your pet from heartworm disease? The veterinarians at Huffard Animal Hospital would love to discuss heartworm testing and the forms of heartworm prevention available. Let’s make sure all pets are on heartworm prevention so you can spend the summer days relaxing with them even if you hear a certain characteristic whining by your ear…

Happy Summer Everyone!

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