There are two common types of heart disease in dogs:

  • In one type, a dog's heart valves lose their ability to close properly, causing abnormal blood flow. 

  • In the other type, the muscular walls of a dog's heart become thinned and weakened.

Both types develop gradually over time and result in the same serious condition called heart failure.

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 What is Heartworm?

Heartworm, or dirofilaria immitis, is an actual worm that resides in a dog’s heart. The parasites can grow between six and twelve inches long, and an infected dog may host more than a hundred worms which can spread to the lungs and large vessels in the circulatory system. As the parasites mature, they block the blood flow and can lead to anaemia (reduced haemoglobin) or heart failure. 

Heartworm is carried by mosquitoes and fleas in tropical and semi-tropical climates such as the southern United States, but occurrences are not limited to those areas. As dog owners travel (taking southerly vacations in winter months, for example), they expose their pets to the disease, and northern mosquitoes can acquire the parasites as larvae from infected dogs. Cases of this parasite have now been reported throughout the United States, and the parasite can affect all Dog Breeds. 

Once a dog is bitten by an infected mosquito, the worms may not reproduce for up to nine months, leaving no visible symptoms of infection. Because of this, dog owners who travel frequently should take all preventative measures to protect their pets even if there is no indication of a parasite’s presence. Furthermore, this problem can also affect cats, so owners should take precautions with all their pets. 

Heartworm symptoms are not typically noticeable until adult worms begin to clog the animal’s circulatory system, which may be several months after the initial infection. Potential symptoms include:

  • Anaemia, characterized by pale gums, excessive sleep, weight loss, and lethargy 
  • Coughing as worms settle in the lungs 

  • Lack of energy or easy exhaustion because the heart is overworked
  • Weight loss even without reduced appetite
  • Weakened immune system leading to frequent minor illnesses
  • Fainting spells due to reduced blood flow

Although it is a serious condition, this infection can be treated. Because diagnosis is not typically made until adult worms have become prevalent, treatment usually involves hospitalisation. Injections can kill the worms living in the dog’s heart, but they must be administered with care because the powerful drugs can also damage the animal’s liver and kidneys. Blood tests can ascertain both the success of the treatment as well as potential damage to other organs. 

After adult worms are destroyed, additional injections are required to kill the heartworm larvae in the dog’s bloodstream to prevent re-infection. Supplementary treatment may also be necessary to help repair the parasite's damage to the heart and lungs, and the animal may be susceptible to pulmonary infections for some time afterwards. 

Preventing Heartworm
The best cure for heartworm is its prevention, sparing the dog a prolonged ordeal. Both daily and monthly tablets are available that destroy larvae before it reaches maturation, therefore preventing the worms from lodging in the dog’s heart. These preventative measures must be given to dogs throughout warm seasons (spring, summer, and fall), or year-round for animals living in or regularly visiting warm climates. Before travelling to a location with a higher probability of worm infection, consult your veterinarian for appropriate precautions. Furthermore, avoid exceptionally swampy parks or areas of long grass that will harbour elevated mosquito populations. 

The preventative drugs can be exceedingly dangerous for animals already infected with heartworm, and dog owners should always have their pets tested before beginning a preventative program. 

Spread through mosquito and flea bites, heartworm is a parasitic infection that disrupts an animal’s circulatory system, eventually leading to life-threatening complications. Treatment can be extensive, but prevention is a simple matter of regular tablets. Though this disease can affect any dog breed anywhere in the country, it is more prevalent in warmer climates where pest populations are higher. By becoming familiar with the disease, its symptoms, and possible treatments, dog owners can take adequate measures to protect their pets and preserve their healthy, active lifestyles.

Mosquito's and Dogs

 What are the signs of heart disease in dogs?
Although some of the early stages of heart failure in dogs have no visible signs, heart failure can be diagnosed through a clinical evaluation by a veterinarian. Dogs with mild to moderate heart failure typically experience heart enlargement, coughing, lethargy and difficulty breathing. Severe heart failure is characterized by difficulty breathing (even at rest), fainting, profound intolerance to exercise, loss of appetite and weight loss.
  • Encephalitis (sleeping sickness)
    Encephalitis is a flu-like illness caused by a virus. Symptoms include high fever and inflammation of the brain. Severe infections are usually marked by acute onset, headache, high fever, disorientation, and occasionally convulsions. Most common in California is Western Equine encephalitis (WEE) and St. Louis encephalitis (SLE). Mosquitoes become infected while feeding on birds that carry the virus. The mosquito can then infect humans with the virus when they bite. 

  • Malaria
    Malaria is also a flu-like illness caused by a protozoan. Symptoms include fever, shaking chills, headache, nausea, and ending with profuse sweating. After an interval free of fever, the cycle of chills, fever, and sweating is repeated every 2 to 3 days. Man is the only important reservoir of human malaria, and mosquites become infected while feeding on other humans that harbor the parasite. The disease is transmitted when an infective female anopheline mosquito bites a human. 

  • West Nile Virus (WNV) 
    This is an emerging infectious disease that was first recognized in the United States in 1999 in the New York area. It was associated with a die off of birds in the area, especially crows. Symptoms in man include low-grade fever, slight fatigue, aches, and mild headache. The elderly and individuals with immunocompromised systems may experience severe headache, neck stiffness, high fever, various central nervous abnormalities, and sometimes death. This virus has been detected in California. 

  • Canine Heartworm
    This is a disease that affects dogs only. It is caused by a worm that damages the lungs and heart of a dog. Symptoms are not evident until later stages of the disease. Dogs may develop a chronic cough, tire easily, and accumulate fluid. The heartworm parasite can cause lung, liver, and kidney damage, or death. Mosquitoes attain worms by feeding on infected dogs, coyotes, or foxes.

The life cycle of the heartworm begins when a mosquito feeds on the blood of an infected dog and ingests the microfilaria, or mosquito larvae. Over the next 2 to 3 weeks, the larvae develop into the infective stage in the mosquito’s body. When the mosquito feeds on another dog, it can transmit the infection. The infective larvae go through several stages over a 4-month period before they arrive in the dog’s heart and lungs. The worms may grow up to 11 inches in length and cause severe damage to the dog’s heart and lungs, including heart failure, dilation of the pulmonary arteries, interstitial and alveolar lung disease, inflammation of the heart valves, and liver and kidney failure. 

If not treated, this damage usually results in the dog’s death. If female and male worms are in the dog’s heart, baby worms are produced that can be picked up by a feeding mosquito and transmitted to another dog. The entire cycle averages 6 months. Clinical signs commonly seen with heartworm disease in dogs include weight loss, exercise intolerance, lethargy, and coughing. Diagnosis is usually by a blood test by your veterinarian. Treatment is available and is usually very successful. The earlier in the disease dogs are treated, the less side effects of treatment usually occur. Dogs with advanced cases can be treated successfully but side effects are more common. Prevention of heartworms is easy and can be accomplished with a once a month tablet.

  • Mosquitoes are responsible for more human death than any other living creature. 

  • Male mosquitoes do not bite. It is the Female mosquito that is responsible for "biting" you, as she needs the protein from your blood to produce eggs. She actually uses her proboscis to suck your blood, not bite!

  • Female mosquitoes can swell to over double their body size before they have even finished their meal! 

  • Most adult mosquitoes live for about two weeks.

  • There are over 3,000 species of mosquitoes in the world, 350 of these are located in Australia!

  • Mosquitoes have been around for over 30 million years! 

  • When flying, mosquitoes beat their wings 200-600 times per second! " The hum of a mosquito is the sound of its wings beating! 

  • It is suggested that people with smelly feet and garlic on their breath may actually be the preferred target for a mosquito! 

  • Mosquitoes mate while in flight! 

  • The welts that appear after a mosquito leaves isn't from the bite - it's an allergic reaction to saliva the mosquito injected under the skin to prevent the blood from clotting

  • Mosquitoes like dark areas and will suck the juice out of plants in order to live - including tree leaves, grass, shrubs, etc.

  • Mosquitoes can find you from up to 36 meters away using their sensory organs to detect body smell, carbon dioxide, warmth and moisture emitted from a chosen host! 

  • Mosquitoes are "born" in standing water, mud, ponds, tin cans, under decks, puddles and old tires, etc.

  • Hundreds of thousands are "born" each day in your area during infestations. 

  • Most mosquitoes disperse less than two kilometres while others only move a few metres away from their original breeding place. However some species will disperse up to 50 kilometres downwind from the larval habitats! 

  • Studies have shown that while bats devour a huge number of insects, mosquitoes are only a small part of their diet.

  • Mosquitoes are found all over the world, even in the Arctic

 How to stop mosquitoes from breeding in your backyard 
  • Empty bird baths at least once a week and wipe the surface to dislodge eggs.
  • Fill pot plant saucers with sand or discard the bases. 
  • Clean and refill pet drinking water daily. 
  • Keep fish ponds stocked with fish (preferably native).
  • Remove any items from the garden that may hold water including tyres, buckets and children's toys.
  • Clean house gutters regularly.
  • Keep swimming pools clean and chlorinated or salted.
  • Check tarpaulins covering boats, pools etc to ensure that no water is collecting and drain if required.
  • Keep all drains free from obstructions such as weeds. 
Natural methods that can help keep mosquitoes at bay include:
  • Plants
    Plants that have been identified to repel Mosquitoes include: 

    - Mozzie Blocker (Leptospermum liversidgei) - a native plant which effectively repels mosquitoes within about a 3 metre radius.
    - Citronella Geranium (Pelargonium citrosum) - when pruned releases a citronella scent.
    - Pyrethrum (Chrysanthemum cinerarifolium) - flowering plant recognised as a mosquito deterrent.
    - Rose Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) - plant oil repels mosquitoes.
    - Lads Love (Artemisia abrotanum)

  • Herbs
    Several Herbs have been recognised as Insect Repellents, including:

    - Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) 
    - Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) 
    - Rue (Ruta graveolens)
    - Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) 
    - Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis)
    - Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)"
    - Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) 
    Infuse the leaves in boiling water, cool, strain and then place the resulting liquid in a spray bottle, then spray around you.

  • Relief from bites
    - Can be obtained from Tea Tree Oil, Coconut Oil and Beeswax, Brown Vinegar and Whipped Egg White.

Mosquito's and Dogs

  • Plant marigolds around the yard, the flowers give off a smell that bugs do not like, so plant some in that garden also to help ward off bugs without using insecticides.

  • "Tough guy" Marines who spend a great deal of time "camping out" say that the very best mosquito repellent you can use is Avon Skin-So-Soft bath oil mixed about half and half with alcohol. mix your own:

        20 drops Eucalyptus oil
        20 drops Cedarwood oil
        10 drops Tea Tree oil
        10 drops Geranium oil
        2 oz. carrier oil ( such as Jojoba )

  • Mosquitoes still bite animals on heartworm pills. The key is to get the blood of the pet in a healthy enough condition that the mosquitoes won't want it. Mosquitoes are a parasite. Herbs that have anti-parasitic properties will discourage not only mosquitoes, but fleas and ticks also. Geranium is an essential oil that repels mosquitos, ticks and fleas and can be used on dogs.

    Directions for Geranium Use 
    Geranium is a very powerful essential oil, if used alone for a flea spray, we suggest you put no more than 4 drops per half cup of water and keep it refrigerated, shake before spraying, never wetting the fur, just a light spritz, and not in the eyes or nose or near the mouth.

  • Herbs such as Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), Clove Flower Buds (Eugenia caryophyllata), Garlic (Allium sativum), Spearmint Herb (Mentha spicata), Turmeric Root (Curcuma longa), Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), and Wormwood (Artemisia annua) are examples of what can be used to formulate an effective preventative and as part of a treatment program.

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