Mosquitoes and ticks are more than a nuisance—they carry diseases that are hazardous to your pet’s health. Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes, and Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis are transmitted by ticks. The Loving Family Animal Hospital team encourages you to learn more about how these diseases can affect your pet, and the importance of prevention to keep them safe.

Heartworm disease and your pet

Mosquitoes can carry a microscopic heartworm parasite in their saliva, which they deposit in your pet’s bloodstream when taking a blood meal. Dogs are natural heartworm hosts, and they allow the larvae to mature into adults, mate, and disseminate their offspring. Cats are atypical hosts, meaning most worms do not survive to the adult stage, but one adult worm, and larvae, can cause cats significant health problems. 

Once heartworm larvae enter your pet’s bloodstream, they migrate toward the heart, lungs, and pulmonary artery and can result in permanent injury, or sudden death, from blood flow obstruction. Dogs can accumulate hundreds of adult worms in their heart, which can cause heart failure. Cats primarily experience respiratory distress because of inflammation from heartworms in their system. A heartworm-infected pet may appear healthy for years, but the disease is still progressing, and advanced disease signs include: 

  • Cough
  • Lethargy
  • Reluctance to exercise
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Fluid accumulation in the lungs or abdomen
  • Sudden death

A test is available to determine if a pet has a heartworm infection, with follow-up tests to determine disease severity. Heartworm treatment includes medication to kill larvae, antibiotics to eliminate heartworm-associated bacteria, and anti-inflammatory medications. Dogs can be administered a series of costly, painful arsenic-based injections to kill adult worms, but no similar products are available for cats. Dogs require strict exercise restriction for the treatment duration, to prevent the dying heartworms from causing deadly blood flow obstructions.

Lyme disease and your pet

The deer tick carries the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease. Some pets can be exposed to B. burgdorferi through tick bites, and have no disease signs during their lifetime, whereas others become quite ill. Lyme disease signs in pets, which can take months to appear, include:

  • Generalized pain
  • Lameness, joint swelling, occasional shifting from one leg to another
  • Decreased activity level
  • Fever
  • Inappetence
  • Progression to kidney disease

B. burgdorferi exposure is diagnosed with a direct test, but other tests are needed to confirm that active Lyme disease is causing illness signs. Lyme disease treatment includes antibiotics and pain medication, but infection can cause lifelong arthritis and chronic joint disease. 

Ehrlichiosis and your pet

Two species of Ehrlichia bacterium affect pets. The more serious illness signs are caused by Ehrlichia canis, which is carried by the brown dog tick. The bacterium attaches to your pet’s white blood cell membranes, and platelet destruction increases the risk of uncontrolled bleeding. An E. Canis infection has three phases, with the acute phase occurring one to three weeks after a tick bite. Illness signs include:

  • Listlessness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Bleeding disorders

After the acute phase, the E. Canis bacterium enters a subclinical phase for up to a year. The subclinical phase in a pet can transition to a chronic phase, where recovery is more difficult. Chronic ehrlichiosis signs can include: 

  • Recurrence of bleeding disorders
  • Neurologic effects
  • Eye inflammation 
  • Decreased blood proteins
  • Progression to kidney disease

Ehrlichia ewingii is a different bacterium species that is carried by the Lone Star tick and also causes ehrlichiosis. The primary illness signs of an E. ewingii infection may appear similar to Lyme disease, including fever, joint pain, and swelling.

Ehrlichiosis can be diagnosed with a direct test, with confirmatory tests possibly necessary. Treatment includes antibiotics, and medications to inhibit platelet destruction. Some ehrlichiosis cases may require blood or platelet transfusions. 

Anaplasmosis and your pet

Two species of Anaplasma bacterium can affect your pet. The more common form, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, is transmitted by the deer tick, and infects white blood cells. Illness signs begin one to two weeks after the tick bite, and may appear similar to Lyme disease, including:

  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fever
  • Painful joints and lameness

The less common Anaplasma platys is transmitted by the brown dog tick and attaches to platelets, causing illness signs similar to Ehrlichia canis, including:

  • Bleeding disorders
  • Bruising
  • Weight loss

Anaplasmosis is diagnosed with a direct test, with follow-up confirmatory tests. Treatment includes antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. More aggressive treatment is needed for bleeding disorders, and may require blood or platelet transfusions. 

Prevention of heartworm and tick-borne diseases in your pet

Prevention of heartworm and tick-borne diseases is less expensive, easier, and healthier for your pet than treatment. Our team can recommend the safest and most effective heartworm and tick prevention protocols for your pet’s optimal protection. We encourage annual testing for heartworm and tick-borne diseases, to ensure early detection and the best chance for full recovery.

Your pet’s health is our priority. Don’t hesitate to contact the Loving Family Animal Hospital team if you have questions about keeping your pet safe from the dangers of heartworm and tick-borne diseases.