ff3d6281-b628-4b34-aef6-4a9fa6ff57d9Many of you are keenly aware that mosquitoes can spread diseases in humans. Zika virus has received significant attention — although there’s still much to learn, including its effect on pets, if any. Still, they aren’t completely immune to mosquito-borne diseases. Heartworm, a very serious condition, is a major concern.

Heartworm disease is as scary as it sounds. It is severe, potentially fatal and caused by parasitic worms that live in the heart and lungs. Heartworms are a type of roundworm, and dogs of any age or breed are susceptible to infection.

Mosquitoes spread heartworms rather innocently. It happens when they bite an infected dog and ingest its blood. The immature heartworms, called microfilaria, grow into larvae inside the mosquito. When the mosquito bites another dog or cat, the larvae is deposited on the pet’s skin and migrates through tissue under the skin. Eventually, the larvea enter the blood vessels, where they quickly travel to the lung. In 6 months or so, the infected larvae grow into mature heartworms and begin procreating. Adult heartworms can live 5 to 7 years in a dog and damage the lungs, heart, liver and kidneys.

But don’t let the threat of heartworms prevent you from enjoying the great outdoors with your pet. Use monthly heartworm preventives year round, paint your thumb green and grow safe, natural mosquito repellents. Dr. DuBose’s top choices include:

  • Lemon balm: Mosquitoes hate its yummy lemon scent, but humans adore it. It’s great in salads and sauces, adds a nice flavor to tea and has a long history of medicinal uses, from treating sleep disorders to calming stress.
  • Basil: It’s another double-whammy herb that seasons wonderfully and wards off mosquitoes. It’s also one of the easiest herbs to keep alive, so even the worst gardeners can build confidence by planting it.
  • Sage: This versatile herb smells great, tastes great and makes a great mosquito repellent. You can also toss it onto the grill or over a flame to create a mosquito-repellent smoke.
  • Rosemary: Yet another great smelling herb that can be planted, eaten and tossed on grill.

To find out what plants are safe for your pet, visit the ASPCA Animal Control Page.