Animal Health Center of Marion County has seen eight heartworm cases in dogs this summer, more than twice as many as the three cases in 2009, according to veterinarian Rachel Davelaar.
The cause of the increase has been a thriving mosquito population, which has profited from a humid summer, according to Davelaar. Mosquitoes are the carriers of heart worms and transmit worms from one infected dog to another.
Spur Ridge Veterinary Hospital in Marion has treated four heart worm cases this year. Veterinary technician Bobbie Pickrell said there were other dogs that tested positive for adult heartworms and the owners were waiting to procure funds for the necessary procedure.
“It’s definitely an increase,” Pickrell said, “unseasonal moisture always increases risk.”
Dirofilaria immitis, or heartworms, are worms, similar to round worms, that live their adult lives in the right side of the heart of dogs, cats, and ferrets. Heartworms are only transmitted by mosquitoes.
Animal Health Center staff are more concerned for dogs, but heartworms can also affect outdoor cats. Although dogs who live outdoors are more susceptible than indoor dogs, it only takes one bite from a mosquito to transmit heartworms.
Adult worms are eradicated by a dangerous and expensive treatment. The medicine kills worms in such a way that as adult heartworms begin to die they can block blood flow for a dog, which can lead to shock or even heart failure.
If left untreated, heartworms can eventually lead to heart failure. Symptoms include lethargy and a cough.
Davelaar and Pickrell are promoting heartworm tests and preventive heartworm medicine for all dogs. Davelaar advises customers to get their dogs tested so veterinarians know for sure they are adult-heartworm free and then pursue preventative medicine that will kill heartworms in a larvae stage.