Heartworm Disease Still on Vet’s Radar
Wagging her stubby Jack Russell tail, Freckles arrives for her veterinary exam with owner Julie in tow. After relocating to Las Vegas from California a few years ago, Julie discontinued Freckles’ heartworm preventative when neighbors told her she didn’t need it here. The duo makes the occasional RV trip to California on weekends, but Julie never got around to resuming heartworm prevention. Her vet’s suggestion for heartworm prevention was initially dismissed with the reply “Oh there aren’t any mosquitoes in Las Vegas. And besides, Freckles stays in the RV most of the time and isn’t exposed to mosquitoes.”
Just like an engorged biting mosquito, these common heartworm misconceptions need to be squashed.
What is heartworm disease?
Passed through the bite of an infected mosquito, heartworm disease results in the development of worms in the heart which reach a size up to 14 inches in length. Heartworms quietly reproduce without apparent symptoms until significant disease occurs in the pet’s heart, kidney, lungs, and liver. A veterinarian might suspect heartworm disease in dogs that cough, are intolerant to regular exercise, or have fainting spells, but by that time you have one sick critter.
There is a treatment for heartworm disease, but it can be costly, there are side effects to the treatment and some pets with advanced infections suffer health deterioration by the time of diagnosis. Veterinarians agree that prevention is safer and cheaper than waiting to treat established infections.
Heartworm: The facts
Do we have heartworm in Las Vegas? Sure we do. Heartworm disease has been diagnosed in all fifty states, but no doubt, the infection rate here is much lower than in other parts of the country where the disease is endemic (widespread throughout the area). But that doesn’t mean the disease isn’t around.
According to the laboratory data tracking through Idexx Laboratories and Antec Diagnostics, 1 in 323 dogs tested in Nevada was positive for heartworm disease. And 54% of those cases occurred right here in Clark County.
Take your pet on a quick visit to California or other nearby states, and you are smack dab in heartworm areas. Check out the heartworm incidence map by state or county on the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) website. http://www.petsandparasites.org/parasite-prevalence-maps/
Dogs spending a lot of time outdoors are at higher risk for acquiring heartworm disease, but that doesn’t mean that indoor dogs are somehow protected against the disease. Since mosquitoes don’t knock on doors before entering, they easily fly inside a house to bite a house-dwelling dog.
Proof of mosquitoes in our midst: West Nile Virus
But for those or those that argue that we don’t have mosquitoes in Clark County, all you have to do is read local headlines this week about West Nile Virus, an infection passed by a biting mosquito and which infects people, horses, and birds. So far in 2012, six people in Southern Nevada have confirmed West Nile virus infections and one recently died from the infection. Fortunately, West Nile Virus doesn’t affect dogs or cats, but the detection of this mosquito-borne human disease should alert pet owners to the realities of mosquito-born disease for people and pets.
According to the Southern Nevada Health District, 17 species of mosquitoes are known to fly in Southern Nevada skies. So yes indeed, these pesky insects are in the Vegas area.
Mosquitoes adapt to life in unusual areas
The arid Las Vegas climate isn’t the typical mosquito haven. Usually, we think of states with high humidity and ample precipitation as mosquito zones. But some mosquitoes cleverly find breeding sites in micro-environments and unusual breeding sites.
Mosquito micro-climates arise through landscaping irrigation run-off, community ponds, and stagnant pools left behind after home foreclosures. But even tinier micro-environments develop in old discarded tires, bird baths, or overturned containers. The sneaky Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) enjoys urban living and reproduces in flowerpots on high-rise apartment balconies.
Salt Lake City, Utah used to see few mosquitoes until a city beautification plan resulted in the planting of trees in the city. When trees were later pruned, they provided a happy home for the tree hole mosquito (Aedes sierrensis), which carries heartworm disease. Now Salt Lake City is endemic for heartworms, not because of weather conditions, but because of human intervention.
Freckles is now protected with her monthly year-round heartworm preventative and her owner, Julie is taking precautions against mosquitoes for her own health. These disease prevention steps are easy and inexpensive.
It’s time Las Vegas residents realize that the old claims of “We don’t have mosquitoes in Las Vegas,” are no longer accurate. Get your pet on monthly year-round heartworm prevention. Protect yourself against mosquito-carried disease. Don’t ignore the realities of these flying pests- they are here to stay.
To learn more about West Nile Disease and Mosquito control methods, visit the Southern Nevada Health District. http://www.southernnevadahealthdistrict.org/west-nile/index.php
For more information on heartworm disease in pets, visit the American Heartworm Society website.http://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources/heartworm.html