One More Threat to the Health of Our Pets

by Patrick Linn, MS, MSHAPI
Executive Director, Collier Mosquito Control District

Poisonous cane toads, hungry alligators lurking in our HOA ponds, and a variety of tropical foliage can serve as fatal encounters to our faithful pets here in Southwest Florida. Another ubiquitous resident of our area is also deadly to unprotected pets: the mosquito. Both people and pets are tasty choices for mosquitoes, but even if your dog ends up on a mosquito’s menu, there are ways to keep your friend safe.

A number of mosquito species in Collier County have the ability to vector – or transmit – the heartworm parasite to dogs, which punctuates the importance of staying current with your pet’s heartworm preventative. A mosquito bite is the only way a dog can
contract heartworm, and there’s no way to visibly tell if a mosquito is infected.

Once a dog is infected with the heartworm parasite by a mosquito, it can take months before its effects are detected. The heartworm larvae mature into adults which lodge in the dog’s heart and lungs. If left untreated, the worms can grow to 12 inches
long. While heartworm can be cured, it is a lengthy and costly endeavor, plus the treatment itself can sometimes prove fatal. That’s why most veterinarians advise that preventive medications are the wisest approach.

Residents often ask us if they can apply the same mosquito repellent to their dogs that they are wearing in an attempt to ward
off the blood suckers. The Collier Mosquito Control District does not recommend putting products containing DEET on their pets.
While it is a very effective mosquito repellent for people, it is not safe for dogs and could be easily ingested by them when they lick
their own fur – or the fur of another dog. In some cases, DEET can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures if a dog swallows it.

Another popular repellent found in many outdoor living areas are citronella candles or citronella plants. Citronella – both the oil
and the plant – is toxic to pets. Use caution when using citronella around your dogs to ensure they don’t have access to nibbling or
chewing on the substance.

What else is recommended for keeping your pet safe from mosquito bites? The same advice we offer all residents: empty the water from any containers around your home on a weekly basis. Standing water is a mosquito’s favorite place to lay her eggs, and thanks to our subtropical climate, those eggs can hatch into flying, biting adult mosquitoes in as few as 5-7 days. That’s why once a week, make it a habit to empty the water standing in your flowerpot trays, birdbaths, pet water bowls, buckets, trash cans, and anything else holding water. Remember: a single bottle cap of water is enough to produce dozens of mosquitoes.

Most importantly, speak with your veterinarian about protecting your pet against heartworm. A quick online search will result in numerous options, including pet-friendly topical applications, but your veterinarian is your best resource in recommending the safest and most effective choices for your dog.

For more information about protecting yourself against mosquito bites and reducing the places mosquitoes can breed around your home, please visit our website at cmcd.org.

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