To say it has been a wet summer would be an understatement. Even before Hurricane Ian, most areas of central Florida were above average for their rainfall totals. In some areas, we are now a foot (or more) above average rainfall for the year. If it were not to rain another drop in Tampa for the rest of the year- we would have an ‘average’ year for rainfall.
The water that Hurricane Ian has left behind is problematic in many ways. All of that standing, stagnant water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. In wetter than average years, we almost always see huge spikes in incidents of heartworm disease.
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-Ian is likely 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. For current incidence maps for the state of Florida, the Companion Animal Parasite Council has a map that is updated every month.
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 or 12 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?
Eliminate 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