Although Austin rarely gets truly cold, we always hope our insect population will die off during the winter. Unfortunately, mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks can pop up as soon as the temperature is above freezing, so these bloodsucking pests are prevalent every day of the year—unless a freak blizzard hits. And, these bugs aren’t only annoying or gross. They can cause numerous serious illnesses in your furry pal who does not have year-round parasite protection. Let’s look at some of the most common—and potentially deadly—diseases that mosquitoes and ticks can transmit to your pet.
Heartworm disease in pets
Heartworm disease in pets is routinely misunderstood. Many pet owners believe the disease affects only dogs, and that indoor dogs are much less likely to contract heartworms. They may also believe they’ll see heartworm evidence in their dog’s stool, as with roundworms or whipworms. However, these are all myths. Heartworm disease can affect any mammal, including cats and people, but dogs and wild canines are the preferred hosts. And, mosquitoes can easily sneak inside your home through an open door or a torn window screen, and infect your pet. Plus, they’ll pounce on any opportunity to bite your furry pal as soon as they step outdoors.
Since heartworms reside in your pet’s bloodstream, mainly in the blood vessels surrounding the heart and lungs, you won’t see these worms in a stool sample. Instead, you may notice the following infection signs:
- Exercise intolerance
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Bloated abdomen
In cats, heartworm disease typically appears as a respiratory illness, with coughing and asthma-like attacks. But, cats can also develop ambulatory issues and seizures, or suddenly collapse and die without showing any signs.
Treating heartworm disease in dogs is harder on their body than prevention, and in cats, no treatment is available. Yet heartworm disease is easily preventable. Rather than putting your dog through a months-long heartworm treatment, or supporting your cat with nursing care, ensure your furry pal receives year-round heartworm prevention.
Lyme disease in pets
Lyme disease, which is transmitted by the black-legged, or deer tick, is one of the most common tick-borne illnesses in pets. Lyme disease can cause a multitude of illness signs, including:
- Shifting-leg lameness
- Weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
Though uncommon, Lyme disease can also cause kidney failure in pets.
To transmit Lyme disease, the infected black-legged tick must remain attached for about 48 hours. Prevention is key to warding off disease, as is checking your pet for ticks after being outdoors. Focus around the warm, hairless areas, such as the ears, under the collar, and in the groin and armpits, which are the ideal feeding spots. If a black-legged tick bites your pet, antibodies can take two to five months to develop, which is how we test pets for Lyme disease. However, if your pet is displaying Lyme disease signs—not the typical bullseye rash people develop—before this time period, contact your Southwest Vet veterinarian.
Ehrlichiosis in pets
Various types of Ehrlichia bacteria can infect dogs who have been bitten by a brown dog or lone star tick, but the two most common are canine monocytic ehrlichiosis and canine granulocytic ehrlichiosis. With canine monocytic ehrlichiosis, dogs will appear normal for one to three weeks after being bitten, but may then enter the acute phase if the body can’t fight off the infection. Acute signs include:
- Poor appetite
- Lymph node enlargement
- Abnormal bruising and bleeding
- Chronic eye inflammation
- Neurologic abnormalities
After treatment or fighting off the infection on their own, many dogs enter what is called a subclinical disease phase, which can last for months to years. During the subclinical phase, blood work may reveal a low platelet count, but otherwise dogs seem normal. In some instances, dogs progress from the subclinical state to the chronic phase, which has the same signs as the acute phase, but is harder to treat.
Canine granulocytic ehrlichiosis has some of the same signs as the monocytic form, such as fever, lethargy, lameness, and neurologic abnormalities. But, the granulocytic form can also cause vomiting and diarrhea. If your pet develops a sudden illness one to three weeks after a tick bite, they may have contracted ehrlichiosis.
Anaplasmosis in pets
Anaplasmosis is transmitted by the brown dog or black-legged tick, and is often seen in conjunction with other tick-borne illnesses. Signs usually crop up one to two weeks after a tick bite, and can include:
Since this disease affects the body’s platelets, you may notice nosebleeds, abnormal bruising, and red splotches on your pet’s abdomen and gums. The prognosis for pets diagnosed with anaplasmosis is excellent, provided they complete a full course of antibiotics.
Tiny ticks and mosquitoes can pack a mighty punch by transmitting serious illnesses to your furry pal. Protect your pet from harm by administering year-round parasite prevention that best suits their lifestyle. Schedule an appointment with our Southwest Vet team for a wellness exam, parasitic disease testing, and a year’s supply of prevention products.