April is National Heartworm Awareness month. 65% of all US households own pets! Put another way, 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats are kept as pets in the United States. If you are anything like our household, you might also own a bird, a snake, gerbils and a various assortment of reptiles brought home by eager young children exploring the woods.
Pets are near and dear to our hearts and we go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that they are as comfortable and as well-kept as possible. They can also be our best friends and our most trusted confidants.
That’s why heartworm disease is such an important topic. It is a serious and potentially fatal disease that affects dogs and cats as well as ferrets, foxes, wolves and even sea lions. While we often purchase heartworm preventatives for our dogs, this medication cannot be used for cats. Cats typically go undiagnosed with heartworm as they often have no adult worms and they tend to develop a condition known as HARD (heartworm associated respiratory disease) because of infection from the disease.
Heartworm disease is prevalent in all 50 states and is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. It is impossible to know which mosquito is infected and which isn’t, which is why prevention is so important. The mosquito bites an animal (wolf, fox, coyote etc.) and becomes infected with microfilariae while taking the blood meal. These microfilariae mature into the infected larvae stage inside the mosquito. When it bites another animal, the larvae move into the animal and infect it. In just 6 months this larva grows into adult worms where they live in the animal for 4-6 years.
The American Heartworm Society is involved in research into understanding this disease and recommends that all pet owners speak with their vet about preventing heartworm disease. Prevention is a much cheaper option than treatment, and these days includes monthly tablets, topical treatments (cats) and injectable options. The AHS is also very committed to spreading the word that there are no herbal or home remedies available for the prevention and treatment of this awful disease. Visit the AHS website for more information on what you can do to keep your pets safe.
While we are not experts in heartworm prevention, we are certainly able to share some recommendations for minimizing mosquitoes in your yard. While this doesn’t in any way replace the need to keep your pets treated, it will minimize those bites and make their time outside (and yours) much more enjoyable. Just remember, no stagnant water! One capful of water is enough to make a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The more water you keep out of your yard the better – so drill holes in those tire swings, make sure toys are upside down and those gutters are clear. Make sure your pets have fresh water each day and clean up any piles of debris and trash in your yard. Add a solar powered aerator to your birdbaths- mosquitoes only like still water. Of course, Mosquito Joe of NW Houston will not only dump your water for you, but we will treat any areas you can’t get rid of and give you our recommendations for changes to make in your yard. And we will treat your yard to make your outside fun again! Now get outside with those pets and have some fun!