Critter Talk Column

Dogs get heartworms from the bite of a mosquito that has bitten an already infected dog. The worms can be up to about a foot long, and live in the right ventricle of the dog’s heart. One affected dog may have dozens of the worms. It is very common for dogs in our area to have heartworms. The spread of heartworms coincides with mosquito season. The longer the mosquito season, the greater incidence of heartworms. Central Texas has a long mosquito season, which is why heartworms are so common here.

Heartworms restrict the blood flow leaving the heart. They also interfere with the heart valves, so there is a reduction in circulation to the vital organs. This eventually leads to organ failure and ultimately death. Dogs infected with heartworms do not show signs right away. By the time symptoms develop, the disease is well advanced.

Most dogs with heartworms have a chronic, dry cough. They also tend to have shortness of breath, weakness, and loss of stamina. The symptoms may be worse after exercise or excitement. If you suspect your dog may have heartworms, your veterinarian can diagnose it.

Heartworms are treatable, but it isn’t as simple or inexpensive as a handful of pills. Treatment usually involves two phases. The first kills the heartworms and the second kills the larvae. Treatment is tricky, because the drugs used are toxic, and they need to use enough to kill the heartworms, but not the dog. In addition to being dangerous, the treatment is quite expensive.

At the Corinne T. Smith Animal Center, we get heartworm positive dogs regularly. Dogs that have spent lots of time outside, and have not been on heartworm preventative, will almost certainly be heartworm positive. Even though it is less risky for dogs that stay inside most of the time, it only takes one mosquito bite. Heartworm preventative is expensive, but much cheaper and safer for your pet that heartworm treatment.

Heartworm preventative comes in different forms, and are different strengths depending upon the size of your dog. To decide what kind of heartworm preventative your pet should be on, talk to your veterinarian.

To change the subject, people commonly ask what it would take for our shelter to become “no-kill.” The bottom line is that there can be no “no-kill” shelter without having a “no-kill” community.

There are so many things that pet owners could do that would make our euthanasia numbers drop dramatically. Keep identification tags on your pet’s neck. Get both a rabies vaccination and booster vaccination for your pet each year. Keep your dog on heartworm preventative. Don’t let your pets roam the neighborhood. Fix your fences. Get your pet spayed or neutered. Have your pet microchipped. When you lose a pet, call us immediately with a lost pet report, and then keep an eye on our website to make sure we haven’t overlooked your little guy. “No-kill” isn’t up to us, it’s up to you.

Corinne T. Smith Animal Center is open for Monday through Friday for adoptions and lost pet searches from 1 to 5 p.m. and for animal intake from 1 to 4 p.m.

We are open Saturday for adoptions and lost pet searches from 1 to 4 p.m. and for animal intake from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information, call 325-646-0617.