By Phil Snyder, Executive Director of Suncoast Humane Society
Published in the Englewood Sun on June 28, 2015
"My dog is so fast; no mosquito can catch him." That is actually the latest and undoubtedly the quirkiest reason used by a dog owner while declining the purchase of heartworm preventive.
It may even rank above, "He seldom goes outdoors," and "I spray him with Off." Heartworms in dogs is not a humorous matter. It is, in fact, a very serious disease that affects far too many canines, especially in Southwest Florida. Although fairly easy and affordable to prevent, it can be very costly and often difficult to cure. And it can be fatal.
There is only one way for a dog to be infected with heartworm disease, and that is to be bitten by an infected mosquito. There is no sure way to tell if a mosquito is infected, so any bite could be the deadly one. This is why heartworm prevention is a necessity.
Once bitten and infected, it can take approximately seven months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. These worms lodge in the heart, lungs and blood vessels, and begin reproducing. An infected dog may have as many as 250 worms in his system.
The heart muscle weakens and the lungs slowly become obstructed. Sudden death is not uncommon, when left untreated. And all of this misery could be avoided. Heartworm disease has been reported in every state in the nation. Where there are dogs and there are mosquitoes, the disease will flourish.
It is important to note that with out mild climate, we have to deal with the possibility of heartworms on a year-round basis. It is estimated that more than 1 million dogs in the United States currently are suffering from heartworm disease. That is tragic, especially when we know that prevention is 100 percent possible.
I am quite sure that most animal shelter personnel feel as though a majority of that astronomical number of infected dogs ends up at their facilities. Shelters that have the resources to check incoming dogs for heartworms report alarming numbers.
As an example, the Suncoast Humane Society has treated nearly 30 heartworm-positive dogs since the inception of its "Shelter Angel Medical Fund" a few years ago. It currently has five adoptable dogs being treated at its animal care center. Although still in the treatment stage, these pets are available for adoption to families willing and able to continue their needed treatment.
"Shelter Angel" is a special fund that helps to save the lives of adoptable heartworm-infected dogs, as well as pets with other treatable medical issues. The fund is made possible by donors who contribute $100, $250, $500 or more, and specifically dedicate their gift to Suncoast Humane Society's Shelter Angel Program.
Heartworm disease in dogs is preventable, but only you as a responsible pet owner can assure that your pet is protected. I urge you to talk with your veterinarian about having your dog checked for heartworms and placed on a preventive program.
Remember, regardless of the rumor, your dog cannot outrun an infected mosquito.