Mosquitoes have a well-deserved reputation for carrying disease. They're responsible for the transmission of deadly human illnesses such as malaria. But if you live in an area with tons of these flying bloodsuckers, you should know what kind of harm they can do to your furry buddy, too.
The only type of worm that dogs get from a mosquito bite is heartworm, and this worm can be fatal to your pet. It will settle into your dog's heart, arteries or lungs, living there for up to seven years. It will grow as long as 14 inches. Eventually heartworms can interfere with your pet's blood flow or breathing and may kill him. In the meantime, not only does he keep getting sicker, he can also be a source of infection for other dogs. Any mosquitoes that bite him will transmit the heartworm from his blood to more animals.
The microscopic larvae of the heartworm, called microfilariae, get sucked up when the mosquito drinks the blood of carrier animals, including coyotes, wolves and dogs. The larvae partially develop inside the mosquito and are then pumped into your dog when the carrier mosquito bites him. If the larvae grow into mature heartworms inside your pet, they will eventually lodge in certain spots and begin to cause him trouble. Your buddy can carry heartworms for a long time before symptoms begin to show, but eventually he will get sick. Common symptoms are coughing, wheezing and a lack of energy.
To find out if your dog has heartworms, the vet will take a sample of his blood and test it for the presence of these parasites. Two types of testing are commonly used. The first method involves checking for microfilariae. This is not always reliable, however, because even though the dog may have heartworms, the microfilariae may have been killed by the dog's immune system or his preventive medication. Your vet may opt to perform the more reliable antigen test for heartworm cells instead. This test can detect even the most minute traces of heartworm cells in the blood and will announce their presence even when no microfilariae are found.
Preventing heartworm is relatively easy. Keeping your dog away from mosquitoes is helpful, but even if you keep him in the house all the time he may still get a bite or two. The best method for dealing with this deadly issue is to give your dog heartworm preventive medication once a month -- and never, ever miss a dose. The preventive doesn't keep your dog from getting infected, but it does kill the circulating microfilariae before they have a chance to cause trouble. Be aware that even the best preventives aren't 100 percent effective, so plan on repeating the blood tests every year.
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