Ticks and Fleas and Disease Oh My!!

Spring is upon us in a big way in New England.  The record warmth early, the deluges later and now the seasonal temperatures  have brought on a bumper crop of ticks,  fleas and mosquitoes.  The scratching and irritation your dog and cat exhibit is but a minor inconvenience (maybe not for them) compared to the severity of diseases these parasites can transfer to our four legged buddies.

Mosquitoes are the carrier of heartworm for dogs and cats.  Though your pet may just spend a small amount of time outdoors,  it takes just one infectious mosquito to transmit  disease such as heartworm or West Nile virus.  Some vector(insect) borne diseases may not be obvious to the pet owner during their initial phases but can result in serious illness if left undiagnosed.

Similarly ectoparasites such as ticks and fleas can also be responsible for many diseases, some which affect humans as well.  While fleas transmit Bartonella (commonly known as cat scratch disease in humans) ticks are responsible for infecting pets with Lyme disease and Anaplasma. This year, in particular, we have seen a rise in tick borne illnesses due to a mild winter that has been most favorable to the rapid increase in tick populations.  Lyme Disease, Ehrlichia and Anaplamosis are all diseases that can affect pets and clearly are on the rise.

What is the best approach in dealing with these issues?  A multifaceted one.  Initially make sure that your pet has been tested recently for the above mentioned diseases.  In some instances, such as Lyme disease and Bartonellosis in cats, a repeat evaluation is important if your dog or cat has tested positive in the past.  Next take preventative measures in your pet’s environment to ensure the insect population is controlled.  Keeping lawns cut and ensuring there is no standing water for mosquitoes are two important steps.  Finally if your pet has had parasites in the past, the use of any number of flea and  tick control products are advantageous. Since there are occasional reports of side effects associated with these  it is always best to consult your local vet.  Lastly, remember to always continue heartworm preventative medications for your pets throughout the year.