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Diane Martin thought it was pneumonia at first. But a disease that rarely afflicts Utah dogs got her dog, Pupino.

Pupino, a cockapoo, died in November of canine heartworm disease."It affected her whole body," Martin said. "Her whole hind quarters swelled up, and she couldn't walk anymore. She wouldn't eat. She just totally deteriorated."

Utah veterinarians believe that the incidence of heartworm will only get worse because of the western tree-hole mosquito, a fairly new breed of mosquito bugging the Wasatch Front.

Dr. Lawrence McGill, president of the Utah Veterinary Medical Association, said that the disease can be controlled.

"The more dog owners that have their dogs on preventative (medication), the less heartworm we're going to have," he said. "Any dog is susceptible to the infection."

The preventative medication comes in pill form, McGill said. One type is taken daily, and there is another type taken monthly. Dogs should be tested first before the pills are taken.

According to Dr. Jim Wilson, a veterinarian with a practice in Bountiful, heartworms live in a dog's pulmonary artery. Once heartworms mate, their larvae are circulated through a dog's bloodstream.

When a mosquito bites an infected dog, the heartworm larva incubates in the mosquito and gets to a point that it can grow to a mature heartworm. This incubation state, according to Wilson, can only occur in a mosquito.

Once the larvae mature in the mosquito, they are transmitted to another dog. The larvae migrate into the dog's pulmonary artery, where they can grow from six to 12 inches in length.

The whole process takes six months, according to Wilson.

Heartworms can live for up to three years.

Wilson says that the disease causes a dog to have something akin to congestive heart failure. The worms build up in the artery and cause the artery to thicken. This makes it harder for a dog's heart to pump blood.

Literature from the American Heartworm Society says the disease can damage a dog's lungs, heart, liver and kidneys.

Sam Dickson, manager of the Salt Lake Mosquito Abatement district, says that research done at the University of Notre Dame determined that the Utah strain of the western tree-hole mosquito was one of most efficient vectors, or carriers, of the disease.

"Not only was it a good vector of heartworm, it was one of the best vectors we had ever seen," Dickson said.

The western tree-hole mosquito was first discovered in the state in 1965. The insects were concentrated in an area along the Weber River. It wasn't until 1986 that they were found anywhere else.

Dickson thinks that it is no coincidence that the first case of heartworm in a dog that had never left Utah was in 1987. He says that type of mosquito now makes up 25 percent of Utah's mosquito population.

All the more reason for dog owners to get their dogs on preventative medication, said McGill.

"I expect heartworm to increase unless we can get the public to use the preventative," he said.

Diane Martin is taking that advice. She has a new puppy named Raider, a Labrador-Doberman mix. She called a veterinarian the day she got the dog to see if she could get it on preventative right away.

"I didn't want a puppy if we couldn't," she said.

She will give her dog the medicine once a month, and do her best to keep her dog heartworm free.

"I just killed one," she said of the mosquitoes. "Stay away from my dog."