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Irma’s rain brings mosquitoes (and possibly heartworms!)

expert vet caring for a dog with heartwormsHurricane Irma was the first major hurricane to make landfall in Florida in many years. Many of us here on Florida’s west central coast were lucky, suffering only minor damage, if any at all. Hours after the storm, Irma’s effects were obvious here in the Lakealand FL area- power outages, trees & limbs down, & roof damage and the like. Our friends elsewhere in the state were not so lucky. Floridians to our south are still suffering the effects of Irma and may take weeks or months to return to what they know as normal. There is a remaining threat- even after the storm has passed, and it has nothing to do with storm damage, tree limbs or downed power lines. The threat is mosquitoes, and their ability to spread heartworm disease.

Irma dropped a lot of rain on the peninsula.Although it wasn’t nearly the amount of rain that Harvey brought to Houston and southeast Texas, many areas around Florida are experiencing unprecedented river flooding. All of this extra water, combined with our summertime temperatures is a perfect recipe for a mosquito population to explode- and it has already begun. Many news articles have already addressed this issue- like this one here.

The veterinary community has seen this happen before. When hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the gulf coast, we found that displaced pets had a much higher incidence of heartworms. Hundreds of thousands of pets were displaced due to the storm- and it was estimated that 60% were positive for heartworms. I realize that the number of displaced pets here in Florida post-Irma is significantly lower, but the fact remains that the carrier of the disease- the mosquito- is hitting hard. When comparing the data compiled from veterinary facilities nationwide, it shows a huge increase for heartworm disease incidence nationwide post 2005 Katrina.  You can see the 2016 incidence map from the American Heartworm Society here.

To be clear, not all mosquitoes spread heartworms. A mosquito must first take blood from an infected animal- whether it is a dog or a cat. (Yes, cats can get heartworms, too). Once the mosquito has fed on a heartworm positive animal- they can spread heartworm microfilaria to other animals. Once the microfilaria enter a dog’s or cat’s bloodstream, the heartworm will begin to affect their pulmonary system. Some things to remember about heartworms:

  • Heartworms can significantly shorten your pet’s lifespan and ultimately lead to death.
  • Your pet will likely show no signs of heartworm disease until after the disease has become well-established.
  • More than 300,000 pets are diagnosed with heartworm disease each year
  • Heartworm disease is expensive to treat. The cost of prevention is a fraction of the cost of treatment.

The best defense is monthly heartworm prevention. There are several heartworm prevention products on the market, including an injectable prevention that lasts for 6 months. Ask us which product will be best for your pet. Almost all of these products offer a guarantee- when given as directed- or they will pay for heartworm treatment (which is expensive). Each manufacturer is different- so read their fine print for their guarantee details. Monthly heartworm prevention is a fraction of what it would cost to treat your pet for a heartworm infection.

What else can I do? 

professional surgery from our certified vets in Bartow FLEliminate areas where mosquitoes can breed. Any standing water around your home can be a breeding ground for these bloodsucking insects. Go around the entire house and look for buckets, tarps, gutters, planters, tires- anything that can hold water. If there is any standing water- get rid of it. If you plan on using any chemical treatments for your yard or insecticide, make sure you read the packaging carefully to ensure they are safe for your pets.

For more information on heartworms and other parasites that can affect your pets- visit the Companion Animal Parasite Council’s website at www.petsandparasites.org and The American Heartworm Society’s page at www.heartwormsociety.org