Canine Mosquito Bites Could be Fatal

A preserved canine heart with an infestation of heartworms. (KAIT/B.Snell)
A preserved canine heart with an infestation of heartworms. (KAIT/B.Snell)
Dr. Kevin Harsha, a Jonesboro veterinarian, examines a dog for possible heartworms. (KAIT/B.Snell)
Dr. Kevin Harsha, a Jonesboro veterinarian, examines a dog for possible heartworms. (KAIT/B.Snell)

July 16, 2003 - Posted at: 8:47 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, Ark. -- The itching and scratching during the hot summer months is tough enough on those bitten by mosquitoes in Region 8. But for our pets, mosquitoes can prove more than just an itchy annoyance, they can be fatal.

"Right here, what we're looking at are his teeth; his gum color; hydration."

Dr. Kevin Harsha is looking and listening for signs of canine heartworms, a health concern for dogs in heavily mosquito-infested Region 8.

"You'll see dogs that have it," Harsha said. "Six months to a year after infected that can potentially go into heart failure and it can kill them."

The disease is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito, but the symptoms don't show up until six months after the bite.

"They start by losing weight," Harsha explained. "Then as the disease progresses, they'll start doing some coughing, some vomiting and generally kind of feel bad."

While it's not very common, cats can get heartworms too. It probably won't surprise you to learn that Region 8 has one of the highest heartworm rates in the country. Dr. Harsha says his office alone sees around 300 cases year. That's why prevention is the key.

"There's a whole gamut of prevention of heartworms out there," Harsha said. "There's monthly pills, there's monthly spot that you can put on their backs that will take care of the worms. There's also now a six-month shot that you can give them."

According to Harsha, even with a little preventative medicine, dog owners should still get them checked for heartworms at least once a year.