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Pets Are In Greater Danger Of Getting Heart Worms

Mosquito on dog

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - The battle continues against mosquitoes in Southwest Georgia. And that fight may move to the air. They are breeding and biting, and county officials are receiving a record number of complaints after the mosquito population exploded during spring flooding. Dougherty County officials are now talking with FEMA about aerial applications of mosquito [larvicide or adulticide] in order to hit some of those hard to reach areas of standing water. Environmental protection is currently spraying seven days a week to combat the problem. Public health declared a health emergency in 23 South Georgia counties because of the danger from so many mosquitoes. Most South Georgians are aware of the dangers of mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile Virus. So it's important to take steps to protect your family, but what many don't realize is mosquitoes also pose a threat to pets. And with all of the standing water in our area, your pet has an even greater chance of contracting a potentially deadly disease.

Long, white strands were removed from the bloodstream of a cat that died from heart worm disease. And that transmission likely began in standing water. "The only way a pet can become infected by heart worms is by being bitten by a mosquito that is carrying heart worms," said Dr. Fred Freeland of Albany Pet Partners. Heart worms are parasitic worms that live in the heart and lungs of infected animals. Mosquitoes become carriers when they feed on them, but prevention is often as easy as giving your pet a pill every month. "There are products that only treat heart worms and can cost three to four dollars a month for a large dog," said Dr. Freeland.

Regardless, many pets still go untreated. "The sad thing about heart worms is that it is an invisible disease to the owner," said Dr. Freeland. And with all of the standing water left from late March storms, the risk of heart worm infection is high. "There is no question we will likely see more mosquito borne-diseases and not just heart worms," said Dr. Freeland. "The frustrating thing is that we won't see the effects of the mosquitoes until six months from now." Vets say even isolated pets are at risk. "Heart worms are present in coyotes, foxes and the wild dog population that no body treats." An infected dog can be treated with a series of three injections that are so strong they can kill your pet. "I would much rather prevent them than run the risk of having a dog die of the disease or die during treatment," said Dr. Freeland. And is why vets are pushing prevention for pet owners especially at a time when flood waters can produce more carriers.

You can do your part to keep the mosquito population low around your home by dumping out any standing water in any water bowls, flower pots, bird baths and old tires. ©2009 WALB News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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