There are many things we enjoy doing year-round, but being bitten by mosquitos is definitely not one of them. While other parts of the country may get a seasonal break from all the buzzing and itching, we Alabamians must endure these disease-spreading pests year-round.
However, the danger of these blood-suckers goes way beyond Zika and West Nile virus. Heartworm disease is a potentially deadly condition that can be transmitted to our pets through infected mosquitoes. Keep reading to learn more about how to protect your companion and why heartworm prevention is a year-round priority.
A Real Threat
Most pet owners have a basic awareness of heartworm prevention, but that doesn’t mean the disease is always well understood. Let’s start with an overview of the life cycle of a heartworm:
- It begins when a mosquito feeds on an infected animal. Minute larvae, or microfilariae, are sucked up with the blood.
- The mosquito becomes an incubator for 10-14 days as the microfilariae develop into heartworm larvae.
- In the meantime, the mosquito continues feeding on warm-blooded hosts (like your pet), depositing larvae into the body, effectively spreading the disease.
- The newest victim’s bloodstream will pick up the larvae and spread them to the heart, lungs, and surrounding tissues.
- It can take up to 6 months for larvae to grow into adult heartworms.
- If both sexes are present in the new host, mature worms will reproduce, starting the cycle all over again.
It’s important to know that cats cannot be treated for heartworm disease, making heartworm prevention their only defense. Dogs can be treated, but it can be very risky and expensive.
The Importance of Year-Round Heartworm Prevention
Heartworm disease is a significant threat in all states and many other places worldwide. Remember, all pets are at risk (even indoor companions), which is why year-round protection is vital.
Many pet owners suspend heartworm and other parasite preventives when summer comes to an end. However, due to the maturation time of heartworm larvae, a bite from an infected mosquito in September could very well turn into a full-blown infection the following spring. Just avoid the risk altogether and maintain your pet’s preventives during every season.
How Does Heartworm Prevention Work?
Whether you opt for a pill, a topical medication, or an injection, heartworm preventives effectively kill larvae before they have a chance to mature. They’re safe for your pet, but if they’re administered late or inconsistently, you run the risk of an immature worm developing into an adult.
If your pet misses two or more doses, a heartworm test should be conducted. When given to an animal that’s already infected, heartworm preventives can trigger a severe reaction. Because this can be life-threatening, many states follow a testing procedure even when a 12-month prescription is strictly followed.