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Mosquitoes do more than make us miserable; pets can be affected by the pests just as much, and even worse.

The blood-sucking bugs carry a variety of dangerous, deadly diseases, including a parasite that’s devastating to dogs and can kill cats, too: heartworm. Through a mosquito bite, heartworm larvae travel through a pet’s bloodstream and live in the heart, lungs and connected blood vessels. The foot-long worms have the potential to cause severe lung disease, heart failure and organ damage, if not treated quickly and thoughtfully.

According to the American Heartworm Society, the parasites can live in any of these hosts:

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Ferrets
  • Wolves
  • Coyotes
  • Foxes
  • Sea lions
  • Humans (rare)

Fortunately, there are treatment options for pets affected by heartworms. Dogs and cats carry heartworm disease very differently, according to the American Heartworm Society, so there is no catch-all method to attack the parasites. But, treatments are generally affordable and can be done at most veterinarians.

“There are really good preventatives now,” Dr. Lucy Roberts of Animal Medical Center of Tuscaloosa said. “There is a shot that lasts six months. So you would take your dog to your veterinarian to get it tested if it does not already have heartworm disease, then it can get a shot to prevent it. You just go back every six months and get another shot. Once a year you test and make sure your dog doesn’t have heartworm and you are still safe.”

The only way for a pet to become infected is through a mosquito bite, but one bite is all it takes. Alabama’s toasty climate serves as an ideal breeding ground for the worms, so folks living in hot, humid areas are most at-risk for their pets to get the disease. But, it cannot be passed from animal to animal.

“As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen,” the American Heartworm Society website reads. “Dogs with large numbers of heartworms can develop a sudden blockages of blood flow within the heart leading to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse. This is called caval syndrome, and is marked by a sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark bloody or coffee-colored urine. Without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm blockage, few dogs survive … Unfortunately, the first sign in some cases is sudden collapse of the cat, or sudden death.”

The Humane Society of West Alabama is working to fight heartworm disease rates in our local pets. Currently, there are three dogs living at the Humane Society’s dog house that live with heartworm disease:

  • Diggy: See his WVUA 23 Pet of the Week segment here.
  • Landon: See his Petfinder profile here.
  • Sugar: See her Petfinder profile here.

“It’s just devastating to us, both for the dogs’ health and then also for the cost involved because folks don’t know that for heartworm disease, to cure it, costs a whole lot more than heartworm disease costs to prevent it,” Tina MIller of the Humane Society of West Alabama said.

Heartworm treatment prices vary depending on the size and breed of the pet and the severity of the disease. For those who want to help the three heartworm-infected dogs recover safely and quickly, the Humane Society of West Alabama is asking for help in any of these three ways:

DONATE: The Humane Society of West Alabama has created a partnership fund with Animal Medical Center, where donors can give money to the Center to go toward the three dogs’ heartworm treatments. Call the Animal Medical Center at 205-758-7295 to make a donation in one of these dog’s names.

FOSTER: Willing residents can choose to foster one of these three dogs while they are being treated for the disease. Responsible residents will keep the dogs at their homes, which should be a calm, quiet environment so as to not allow the dog to run wild – doing so could trigger a heart attack. The Humane Society of West Alabama would provide everything that would be needed for the dog to stay happy and healthy.

ADOPT: Responsible, willing residents can also adopt one of these three dogs. The Humane Society of West Alabama would continue to provide the heartworm treatments in the event that one of these dogs are adopted.

“It’s not just about the cost; it’s about the trouble that we have to put these little pups through because they can’t get their heart rate up,” Miller said. “The worm actually forms around the heart and the lungs and constricts it, so it could kill them. So we have to keep them very safe and quiet. So we are looking for some heroes in Tuscaloosa.”

Visit the Humane Society of West Alabama in person at 2430 36th Street in Northport, online at, call the shelter at 205-554-0011, or visit their Facebook page.

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