Fleas, Ticks and the Diseases they Carry

Although the object of the Brockton Animal Hospital posts is to inform the pet owning public about important issues regarding their pet companions, it often seems that the subjects are a bit scary. Though not the intent to frighten, describing newly recognized, or more frequently diagnosed diseases does exactly that. We apologize but there are two conditions we seem to see more and more commonly in both dogs and cats. Anaplasma, a bacteria that is transmitted by ticks and Bartonella is a bacteria of which the most common strain is carried by fleas. Anaplsmosis is a problem frequently diagnosed in dogs while Bartonellosis can affect dogs and cats. As part of the annual physical exam our canine friends have blood drawn to test for heartworm as well as several tick born diseases (Anaplasma included). Our feline companions are generally tested for Bartonella just once early on in their life unless they have a severe flea infestation. In that case they may be tested a second time. Why is all of this information important? Currently there is not uniform agreement among veterinarians as to the importance of Anaplasma or Bartonella in patients testing positive. In our opinion we are now seeing considerably more manifestations of disease that could be related to these organisms.

Consider the following: In the past year we have seen several cases of cardiac disease in previously healthy dogs who subsequently tested positive for Anaplasmosis. Though not often considered a likely sequel to infection in dogs, the frequency with which we have diagnosed apparent Anaplasma induced endocarditis or myocarditis raises suspicion. The disease is well documented in human literature but only briefly in veterinary journals. My personal interest in this disease entity grew when my own dog, Red, an Irish Setter developed heart disease late in his life. He had tested positive for Anaplasma several times and although treated continued to test positive. This is not an uncommon occurrence. Recently we treated a Golden Retrieve pup who had been diagnosed with liver failure. Although his therapy included many aspects such as medication, laser therapy and diet, a previous positive test for Anaplasma was felt to be unimportant by a different hospital. When he tested positive for Bartonella as well, there was still a question from previous veterinarians about whether this factored into the disease. Though this pup is making a very strong recovery after treating for these organisms, it is still hard to prove a cause and effect relationship. Further questions have been raised about cats positive for Bartonella and the possible connection to diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and cardiac disease.

So where does this leave you, the concerned client. It is important to be thorough in your own research as well as in asking questions in the event your pet tests positive for any organism. If your vet seems unconcerned ask why. If the explanation doesn’t satisfy you, seek other opinions. Part of medicine is an art as well as a science. Interpreting blood tests, x rays and ultrasounds is often not black or white. As a mentor of mine many years ago acknowledged, “the devil is in the details”. Or at the risk of dating myself, the singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen once wrote: “there is a crack, a crack in everything….that’s where the light gets in”. Even in the darkest hours of illness finding that light can make all the difference in the world.