When you step outside to enjoy the day in the sun and warm weather, you probably spray from head to toe to protect yourself from mosquitoes, ticks, and other annoying insects. You know how irritating the bites from these pests can be, and the fact that they can transmit serious illnesses makes shielding yourself from bug bites vital. But, what about your furry pal? Despite a thick fur coat, they are also susceptible to mosquito and tick attacks. Stock up on your pet’s parasite prevention medications, and brush up on your knowledge about the diseases these pests transmit.

Heartworm disease in pets

Heartworms are transmitted by a mosquito bite and prefer canine hosts, but can live in any mammal, including your indoor cat. With the ability to fly inside your home through an open door or spend the winter in your climate-controlled garage, mosquitoes can infect your pet at any time, meaning your four-legged friend isn’t safe indoors, or during the winter.

Once an infected mosquito bites and transmits heartworm larvae to your pet, the larvae take about six months to mature into adults and travel to the major blood vessels surrounding your pet’s heart and lungs. However, the immature heartworms can still wreak havoc as they travel through your pet’s body, leaving the circulatory system permanently scarred.

In early heartworm disease, many dogs show few, if any, signs. However, dogs who are active, heavily infected with heartworms, or have other health problems often show pronounced signs, especially as the disease progresses. Canine heartworm disease signs may include:

  • Mild, persistent cough
  • Reluctance to exercise
  • Fatigue after moderate activity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss

As heartworm disease progresses, dogs may develop heart failure and a swollen abdomen because of fluid buildup. 

Feline heartworm disease signs encompass a wide range that can be subtle or dramatic, and may include:

  • Coughing
  • Asthma-like attacks
  • Periodic vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty walking
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Fluid accumulation in the abdomen

Unfortunately, the first heartworm disease sign in cats may be sudden collapse or death.

The best way to ensure your pet stays healthy is to keep them on a year-round heartworm prevention protocol. Heartworm disease treatment in dogs is a long, complex process that can take months, and be difficult and painful for your dog. For cats, no approved treatment is available.

Lyme disease in pets

Lyme disease in pets is caused by the bite of the black-legged tick, or deer tick. The tick must remain attached for about 48 hours to transmit disease, so quality tick prevention and checking your pet thoroughly for ticks after being outdoors can prevent this serious illness. 

Lyme disease signs in pets may include:

  • Recurrent or a shifting-leg lameness 
  • Joint inflammation
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Appetite loss
  • Stiff walk with an arched back
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Difficulty breathing

In rare cases, Lyme disease can also attack your pet’s kidneys and lead to kidney failure. The Lyme bacterium is difficult to completely eradicate from your pet’s body once infected, and your furry pal may experience flare-ups throughout their life. 

Anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis in pets

Anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis are two other common tick-borne diseases, although they are not as widely known as Lyme disease. These diseases are transmitted by the black-legged tick or the lone star tick, respectively, but your pet may suffer from co-infections of multiple tick-borne illnesses, despite being bitten by a single tick.

Pets affected by ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis display signs similar to Lyme disease, such as:

  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Respiratory distress
  • Weight loss
  • Lameness
  • Joint pain
  • Anorexia

These two diseases can also cause bleeding disorders and clotting problems, and ehrlichiosis can lead to neurologic issues. 

Pets who develop ehrlichiosis can suffer from multiple disease stages. In the acute phase, signs are most easily noticeable and may last two to four weeks before the dog either clears the infection or heads into the subclinical stage, during which no signs are outwardly visible. Dogs can linger in this stage for a long time, or they may eliminate the infection, or develop the chronic phase. The signs are the same in the chronic phase as the acute phase, but treatment is more difficult.

Although tick-borne diseases are serious conditions that can cause unpleasant illness, most pets respond well to antibiotic therapy. However, pets can suffer from relapses, because the pathogens are difficult to completely eradicate, making year-round tick prevention a necessity to keep your four-legged friend safe.

Protect your pet from potentially deadly parasites and their diseases by scheduling a wellness visit with our Airway Animal Clinic team, and we’ll discuss the best preventive products to keep your furry pal safe.