PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Mutty Paws Rescue is warning dog owners after they say they've seen a surge in dogs with heartworm from infected mosquitoes.
"You can have a seemingly healthy dog and not know that they're heartworm positive until it's too late," said Ashley Miller, the founder of Mutty Paws Rescue in West Palm Beach.
Miller said heartworm can be deadly for dogs if left untreated. A mosquito that bites an infected dog picks up microscopic larval worms with its blood meal, the worms develop in the mosquito and then are transmitted when the mosquito bites another dog.
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"I was getting bit like they were all over my leg I was like oh no," dog owner Tasia Nedd who took hert do to City Paws dog park near Howard Park in West Palm Beach. "I can't even go out in the park without them bothering you. Nothing you do keeps them away."
She said she gives her dog heartworm medicine and a pest collar to protect her dog from heartworm.
"It's scary to think that there's worms in their bodies, hurting them, harming them," said Nedd.
Miller said this time last year they treated 15 dogs that had heartworm, so far this year that number has doubled to 30.
"It takes one mosquito to have your dog infected with heartworm disease," Miller said. "It takes a big toll if you can catch it in time. If you cannot catch it in time then you're looking at chronic heart failure that's end stages. There's nothing that can help a dog come back from that at that point."
Miller said a full round of heartworm treatment can cost around $500 for a small dog, and a larger dog upwards of $1,000.
"The crazy thing about it is that it's $15-$20 a month for a chewable that could prevent this," Miller said.
"Treatment is extremely hard on the dogs," Miller said. "They have to have strict crate rest, no play, and when they get the injections, we leave them overnight at the vet because they are in an extreme amount of pain."
West Palm Beach dog owner Danielle Stumpff said her son adopted a dog that was diagnosed with heartworm and was put through the intense treatment.
"No, it was not an easy process at all," Stumpff said. "It just kind of drained the dog. It was not very active during the treatment time."
She said the dog thankfully recovered.
"It's unfortunate because he rescued it and it was a good loving home but couldn't take it on walks and stuff like that that it really needed to," Stumpff said.
Miller said heartworm is preventable through yearly vet screenings and medicine.