How to Prevent Your Dog From Getting Heartworm

by Jodi Thornton O'Connell
    A vet hears abnormal lung sounds when a dog has an advanced case of heartworms.

    A vet hears abnormal lung sounds when a dog has an advanced case of heartworms.

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    Mosquitoes are the bane of summer, their itchy bumps left behind on the skin of victims a nuisance to both man and beast. For your dog, a visit from a mosquito can mean a lifetime of misery if the skeeter is carrying the microscopic larvae of the heartworm. The worms take up residence in the right ventricle of the heart, lungs and nearby blood vessels, leading to a variety of health problems and eventual death. The disease is costly to treat -- with multiple treatments necessary -- making prevention the best way to deal with the parasite.

    Monthly doses of heartworm preventive ensure dogs don't contract the disease. Medications such as ivermectin, moxidectin, selamectin and milbemycin oxime to kill any larvae circulating in your dog's blood stream. Some dog breeds -- including collies, whippets, sheepdogs and shepherds -- carry a multi-drug-resistant gene, making them more susceptible to serious side effects from these substances. Check with your vet for the safest alternative for your dog.

    Reduce the mosquito population around your home by making sure no standing water is around to foster mosquito breeding. Turn wheelbarrows, buckets and other movable items upside down to prevent water from collecting in them. Make a homemade mosquito trap by filling a 5-gallon bucket two-thirds full of water. Squirt in about 1 ounce of dish soap and stir. Spray WD-40 over the top and cover it with chicken wire to keep birds out. Mosquitoes attracted to the standing water get stuck on the surface, and their eggs die without hatching.

    When hiking or camping with your dog, use a repellent spray to deter mosquitoes from biting. Raccoons, coyotes and other mammals carry the disease, making your dog a vulnerable target for disease-carrying mosquitoes. Do not use human repellent on your dog, as the DEET used in most products is highly toxic when they lick it off their coat. Flea and tick collars do not repel mosquitoes, so be sure to use a product specifically designed to repel mosquitoes on dogs. Create your own pleasant-smelling repellent spray using a few drops of lemon eucalyptus, lavender, orange and peppermint essential oils diluted in a water-filled spray bottle. Shake it well each time you use it.

    Your dog needs a heartworm test on an annual basis, even if you treat him with monthly preventives. Puppies older than 6 months should get a heartworm test before beginning the preventive measures. Your vet will advise a test should your dog develop a cough and have unusual tiredness after physical activity. If the disease has taken hold, an intravenous injection to kill the adults is the usual course of treatment prescribed by veterinarians, with followup injections to kill larvae.

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    About the Author

    Jodi Thornton O'Connell has been an outdoorswoman for more than 45 years. She shares her love of adventure in columns for "Out-and-About Magazine," "Adam’s Rib," "Senior Christian Lifestyles," "Creede Magazine" and various websites.

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