HOUSTON--Vets in Texas are predicting this could be an exceptionally bad year for heartworm disease. A mild winter and a bumper crop of mosquitoes may mean extra danger for your dog or cat.

Riley is a healthy-as-an-ox French bulldog. This summer, he and owner Larry Picchiotti rarely go outside not even to the backyard to play fetch because heartworm spreading mosquitoes are swarming.

They ll attack up. It sounds dramatic but they are very, very bad this year, said Picchiotti.

Mother Nature created this perfect storm for heartworms, it was a mild winter, followed by a pretty wet spring and we re in store for a really hot summer that means mosquitoes are pretty much everywhere.

Studies find that Texas ranks in the top 10 in heartworm infections. The mosquito bites the dog or cat, the larvae migrates to the heart, where parasitic worms can grow up to 12 inches long.

You can see right here is the valve, they re actually clogging up the valve here, said Banfield Pet Hospital Veterinarian Angela Roberts

Roberts says Texas is infested with heartworm disease and unprotected pets are being infected right now but owners won t know until this winter when pets start showing symptoms which include cough, lethargy and difficulty breathing.

There are expensive treatment options for dogs but if not caught early, it can be fatal.

They clog the heart up so the heart can t pump so they die of heart failure essentially, said Roberts.

Roberts says prevention is key especially for cats because there is no safe treatment option.

She recommends a simple heartworm blood test for all pets. Dog owners can choose between a monthly topical medication and twice a year injections but there is no shot that works for cats.

Dr. Roberts says some pet owners choose to do nothing.

It s so frustrating to see a pet heartworm positive when all you had to do is give them a pill, she said.

As for Riley, he s been vaccinated.

He s a part of the family, we do everything we have to to keep him happy and keep him safe, said Picchiotti.

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