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By Cesar Millan

This week is the beginning of spring for my fans north of the equator and the beginning of fall for my fans to the south. This spring is a particularly good one for me because I’m back on TV in my all-new show “Cesar 911,” but every spring is a favorite time of year of mine because now Mother Nature wakes up from her long sleep of winter and everything begins to blossom and grow again.

But there are some things that come back again in the spring and summer that can be very dangerous for our dogs. Remember, as Pack Leaders, our role is to provide protection and direction. Things like rules, boundaries, and limitations are obviously direction but remember this: to direct your dogs properly is also to protect them.

But it’s not enough. Even if you have the most well-balanced dog in the world, they can still be attacked and seriously injured or even killed. But the attackers I’m talking about don’t have two legs, or four.

They have six and, like Mother Nature, they are also about to wake up from their winter slumber. They say that every rose has its thorn, and one of the thorns on the glorious arrangement called Nature is the mosquito.

Mosquitoes are good at exactly one thing: transmitting disease from one warm-blooded animal to another. Malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, West Nile virus, and various types of encephalitis are all carried by mosquitoes, and some of the diseases they carry are literally strong enough to kill a horse. Actually, many horses and many humans — mosquitoes have been responsible for the deaths of millions over the years. They don’t actually bite. It’s more like they drink with a straw, but their saliva runs down that straw and that’s how they transmit diseases in humans.

Or in your dog.

You’ve probably heard of the disease mosquitoes pass to our dogs. It’s called heartworm disease. However, you’ve probably also heard a lot of myths about how dogs get it — from contact with other dogs, from eating feces, even from eating snail’s eggs. None of those are true. The only way a dog can get heartworm disease is from a mosquito.

Heartworm disease is caused when an infected mosquito infects a dog with heartworm larvae. Untreated, virtually all dogs will develop heartworm disease as the larvae mature into adults. The adults, which can grow up to a foot long, take up residence in the dog’s heart, where they block major blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, and kidneys. An infected dog also becomes a source of infection when another mosquito drinks its blood and the cycle continues.

In the U.S., mosquito season began last month all along the southern edge, and that line has moved north this month. By May, it will be mosquito season in the entire country. So, as spring arrives, you want to take precautions to reduce the likelihood of mosquitoes hanging around your place:

  • Check your window screens to make sure there are no rips or holes in them, and that they are tightly attached to the window frames all around.
  • Make sure that there are no sources of stagnant, standing water around. This is where mosquitoes lay their eggs and pregnant female mosquitoes are the ones that most effectively transmit disease.
  • Mosquito traps are available to consumers which are designed to lure females to lay their eggs in them, then kill the mosquito and the eggs with mild and contained pesticides.

Of course, as far too many of us know, no matter what precautions you take, the chances of becoming a mosquito’s lunch in some parts of the world are almost certain. That’s why you need to take steps to protect your dog from the disease, since you can’t protect them from the mosquito.

The American Heartworm Society recommends giving your dogs monthly preventive treatments. Once upon a time, heartworm prevention was either very expensive or very difficult or both, often involving hospitalization for IV injections twice a year. By the late 1980s, medication had become cheaper and only had to be given monthly, and some companies have created delivery methods disguised as dog treats, so preventing heartworm becomes an opportunity to protect and give affection at the same time.

As I mentioned above, failure to prevent a heartworm infection can be fatal to your dog. As the worm larvae grow, they damage not only your dog’s heart, but her lungs, kidneys, and liver. Treatment is possible if this happens, but as the American Heartworm Society states, “Preventing heartworm disease is easy. Treating it, sadly, is anything but.”

So get out there and enjoy the reawakening of Mother Nature, but make sure that you’re treating your dogs to prevent heartworm and providing direction and protection as the Pack Leader.

Stay calm, and heartworm free!

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