They may be tiny creatures, but mosquitoes and ticks carry diseases that can significantly affect your pet’s health, and can be deadly. Our team at Tamberley Animal Hospital wants to provide information about these diseases to ensure your pet is protected.

When mosquitoes target your pet

A vector is a living organism that carries and transmits an infectious agent to another living organism. Mosquitoes are vectors for many diseases, but their transmission of heartworm disease is the most common issue affecting pets. Dogs, foxes, coyotes, and wolves infected by adult female heartworms have microfilariae (i.e. baby heartworms) circulating in their bloodstream. When a mosquito takes a blood meal from these animals, they ingest the microfilariae, which develop to an infective larval stage in 10 to 14 days. When this infected mosquito bites another dog, cat, or susceptible wild animal, the infective larvae enter through the mosquito’s bite wound. 

  • Heartworm disease in dogs — Dogs typically do not exhibit signs in the early infection stages, but, as more worms accumulate in the dog’s heart, signs begin to manifest. Active dogs, heavily infected dogs, and dogs dealing with concurrent disease processes tend to show more pronounced signs, which include a mild cough, exercise intolerance, decreased appetite, and weight loss. In heavily infected dogs, a sudden blockage of blood flow in the heart can cause a condition called caval syndrome. These dogs will exhibit sudden respiratory distress, pale gums, and collapse. Heartworms are easily diagnosed in dogs by a simple blood test, and all dogs should be tested at least once a year. If your dog is affected by heartworm disease, their activity must be significantly restricted, and our veterinary professionals at Tamberley Animal Hospital will devise an appropriate treatment plan.
  • Heartworm disease in cats — Affected cats may not show any signs, with sudden collapse or sudden death often the first indication of a problem. If they do exhibit signs, these will include difficulty breathing, cough, vomiting, and weight loss. Diagnosis in cats is not easy, and in addition to blood tests, an X-ray or ultrasound may be necessary to confirm a heartworm infection. If your cat is infected, their activity will need to be significantly restricted. No treatments are approved for cats, but supportive treatment can stabilize their condition.

Heartworms can easily be prevented in dogs and cats by providing year-round heartworm preventives. Certain products also protect your pet from internal parasites, which is important in Georgia, where wildlife is abundant. Tamberley Animal Hospital recommends Interceptor Plus for dogs, and Synergy and Revolution Plus for cats.

When ticks target your pet

Ticks are vectors for many diseases, such as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis. The parasite typically has to stay attached to your pet for 24 to 48 hours to cause infection.

  • Lyme disease — Transmitted by the black-legged tick, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi. After infection, your pet may not show signs for weeks or months, but will eventually show signs that include fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, and joint pain. In severe cases, the kidneys can be impacted, leading to kidney failure.
  • Ehrlichiosis — Transmitted by the brown dog tick, a bacterial infection caused by Ehrlichia canis is the most common form of ehrlichiosis to affect pets, who will experience three phases of disease.
  • Acute phase — Occurring one to three weeks after your pet is bitten, the bacteria are replicating and attaching to white blood cells. Signs include fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, and swollen lymph nodes. If pets are not treated appropriately during this phase, the infection will progress to the subclinical phase in one to four weeks.
  • Subclinical phase — The bacteria sequester in the spleen, and your pet will not exhibit any signs during this phase. Pets can stay in this phase for months or years and may never progress to the chronic phase, but their prognosis worsens if they do.
  • Chronic phase — Signs that a pet has progressed to the chronic phase include abnormal bleeding, inflammation inside the eyes (i.e., uveitis), and neurologic signs.
  • Anaplasmosis — Transmitted by the black-legged tick, anaplasmosis is a bacterial infection caused by Anaplasma phagocytophilum. Signs usually manifest about one to two weeks after your pet is bitten, and include fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, joint swelling, and bleeding abnormalities. 

Many tick-borne diseases result in similar signs, making diagnosis difficult. Confirming a diagnosis usually occurs when your pet exhibits signs, has a positive blood test, and responds to treatment. A particular antibiotic class is typically effective in treating tick-borne illnesses, and most pets require treatment for at least four weeks.

Lyme disease cases are on the rise in our practice area, but you can safeguard your pet against these dangerous diseases by providing year-round flea and tick prevention. Our team recommends Credelio for dogs, and Synergy and Revolution Plus for cats. If you routinely take your dog further north, to northern Georgia, Tennessee, or North Carolina, you may consider vaccinating them against Lyme disease.

Protecting your pet from mosquitoes and ticks can easily be accomplished by vigilantly providing year-round prevention treatments. If you would like to discuss the best preventive for your pet, or if you would like your dog vaccinated for Lyme disease, do not hesitate to contact our team at Tamberley Animal Hospital to schedule  an appointment.