An all points bulletin has been issued—Midwesterners should be on the lookout for dangerous mosquitoes and ticks. These criminals are wanted for harboring and transmitting potentially deadly infections and diseases to our pets. Please be advised that mosquito and tick populations are rising in our area, so our Somerset Animal Hospital team recommends you take care to keep your pet safe. This means keeping your pet up to date with regular physical exams and annual screenings, prevention medications, and owner education, to build a strong defense against summer’s most wanted pet parasites.
Perpetrator #1: The mosquito
The mosquito has always been a nuisance, but recent forecasts from the Companion Animal Health Council show the mosquito has reached pet-health-threat status. Kansas and its neighboring states are expected to see an increased number of heartworm-positive pets in 2021.
- Cycle — Infective mosquitoes are an intermediate host to heartworms, basically serving as henchmen for the true, microscopic mastermind they carry. The mosquito’s bite allows immature heartworms (i.e., microfilariae) to enter your pet’s bloodstream, where they migrate to the lung vessels, and mature over the next six months. The adult heartworms reside in the heart, large pulmonary vessels, and arteries, and cause inflammation of vessels and tissue. They grow up to 12 inches long and reproduce in the hundreds, forming blockages, and impairing vital circulation. These blockages can cause sudden death in dogs.
- Signs — Pets with early stage heartworm disease show no infection signs, allowing the disease to progress. The first warning signs include a progressive cough, fatigue after exercise, reduced appetite, and weight loss. Heartworm disease progresses to heart failure in untreated dogs.
Heartworm disease in cats is different. Affected cats usually harbor only one or two adult worms, and circulating microfilariae are rare. Heartworm disease is often undiagnosed in cats because they are seldom tested. Also, cats with heartworm disease show different signs than dogs, and will experience respiratory difficulty similar to an asthma attack, as well as vomiting and loss of appetite.
- Prevention — Heartworm prevention is the best action to take against heartworm disease. Preventive medication works by destroying microfilariae before they can mature into damaging adult worms. To form a complete road block, you must stop heartworm disease before the mosquito bites, by administering flea and tick preventives that contain mosquito repellent.
A heartworm test is recommended annually for dogs and cats, including those receiving a heartworm preventive This is a simple and easy way to ensure that their medications are effective and a break-through infection has not occurred.
Perpetrator #2: The tick
Four tick species are guilty of transmitting diseases in our area—the Lone Star tick, the American dog tick, the brown dog tick, and the black-legged tick. These tiny predators consume three blood-meals as they mature, and may introduce disease pathogens, including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis, to pets.
- Lyme Disease — Lyme disease, which is no longer confined to the northeastern United States, is being diagnosed at an alarming rate in Kansas. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi that is carried by the black-legged tick. Humans and dogs are at risk for the disease, but not cats. Subclinical infection can mean the disease goes unnoticed, despite the bacteria living in the connective tissue. Clinical signs include swollen joints, lymph node enlargement, and on-and-off lameness, and are similar in pets and people. Lyme disease is a chronic condition if left untreated.
- Ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis — A crime family of bacterial offenders, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis are transmitted primarily via the brown dog tick and the black legged tick, respectively. The bacteria live inside the pet’s white blood cells, multiplying and circulating through the body. Infection signs are vague, and usually include fever, lethargy, depression, weight loss, and swollen joints, but may also be nonexistent. Cats may also experience vomiting and diarrhea.
- Prevention — Tick-borne diseases are treatable with long antibiotics courses, although some are never fully cleared and can re-emerge after treatment. The best choice for your pet is prevention medication, annual testing, and reduced tick exposure by staying out of tall grasses and wooded areas.
Ticks require 24 hours from the time of attachment to begin collecting a blood meal and transmitting disease. This window of time is exactly what flea and tick prevention products target—they repel the tick altogether and prevent the bite, or they kill the tick rapidly after the bite, before your pet can be infected. A recommended preventive for your pet means your peace of mind, since you will know your pet is protected if you see a tick. Discuss your pet’s lifestyle and risk factors with your veterinarian to select the product that best suits their needs.
Screening for tick-borne diseases involves a simple blood test, usually performed to correspond with your pet’s heartworm test, that is recommended annually. Because Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis are asymptomatic, early detection allows for sooner treatment, and avoids your pet’s unnecessary suffering.
To turn the tables on these dangerous bands of parasites, we have our work cut out for us. We must anticipate every enemy move, and protect our pets. Fortunately, Somerset Animal Hospital is ready with an effective strategy that equips your pet with a strong defense of mosquito and tick preventives. Contact us to review our battlefield recommendations for your pet.
Let’s drive these bandits out of town—or at least far away from our pets—with routine administration of heartworm, flea, and tick preventives and annual testing.