Picture an idyllic scene. You and your furry pal are frolicking down the trail winding through your local park, enjoying a gorgeous sunshine-filled day. As you meander down the path, your dog tugs at their leash to explore a thick patch of brush, and you follow close behind. As you walk through this brushy area into the heart of the park, your pooch is in heaven, sniffing out all the various wildlife trails. Later, as the sun begins to lower, out comes a swarm of blood-seeking mosquitoes that chases you and your dog, and you head for home, slapping at the pests as fast as you can. However, you know you and your pet, whose short fur offers little protection, have multiple mosquito bites. By the time you are safely home, you have numerous welts caused by the mosquitoes, and, worse, you feel a tickling sensation crawling up your leg and discover a tick.
Unfortunately for you, no parasite preventive can tackle heartworms, fleas, and ticks in people, but many prevention products are available for your furry pal—and, fortunately for your pet, you administered their preventive this morning before heading out on your walk, so you know they are protected from various parasitic diseases.
Without parasite prevention, your pet could have been exposed to the following common diseases.
Heartworm disease in pets
Heartworms prefer to set up shop in dogs and wild canines, although these parasitic worms can infect any mammal. However, if your dog had been unprotected during your walk, those mosquito bites could have caused more damage than itchy skin—they could have transmitted heartworm larvae. After an infected mosquito bites, heartworm larvae travel throughout your pet’s bloodstream to reach the large blood vessels surrounding the heart and lungs. In about six months, they reach adulthood and begin reproducing. However immature heartworms can also cause serious damage to your pet’s health. Dogs with heartworm disease generally cough, and the dry, hacking cough worsens with disease progression, as does their exercise intolerance and fatigue. In late heartworm disease stages, dogs can develop congestive heart failure and a distended, fluid-filled abdomen. Treatment is difficult for dogs, who must be kept exercise-restricted for 8 to 12 weeks while undergoing multiple injections administered deep into their lumbar muscles.
In cats, asthma-like signs are the most common, so you may notice coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing. In some cases, vomiting, seizures, difficulty walking, and sudden collapse or death are possibilities. Cats have no approved heartworm treatment, which makes year-round prevention more critical.
Lyme disease in pets
Although Lyme disease is not as common in California as along the East Coast, you could have been bitten by that black-legged tick that was crawling up your leg, and contracted Lyme disease. Fortunately, you pulled the tick off before it had a chance to attach and begin disease transmission. However, a black-legged tick that bit your pet would need to remain attached for 48 hours to transmit the Lyme bacterium, so proper prevention and a thorough tick check after being outdoors can protect your furry pal from this tick-borne illness.
If your pet contracts Lyme disease, you may notice the following signs:
- Shifting leg lameness
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Tender, painful joints
Unlike people, pets rarely develop the classic bulls-eye lesion seen with Lyme disease—if they do, it’s well-hidden under their fur. In rare cases, pets can also develop kidney disease, which requires lifelong management.
Anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis in pets
Ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis are two similar tick-borne illnesses that can be transmitted by brown dog, lone star, and black-legged ticks. Pets with ehrlichiosis can cycle through acute, subclinical, and chronic phases if left untreated, causing a range of illness signs, including:
- Poor appetite
- Lymph node enlargement
- Abnormal bruising and bleeding
- Chronic eye inflammation
- Neurologic abnormalities
Anaplasmosis can cause most of the same signs, especially abnormal bruising and bleeding, as this disease attacks the body’s platelets and affects clotting. Both these tick-borne illnesses are typically treated with a 30-day antibiotic course, with good results, and no lasting effects.
Don’t leave your pet unprotected against the threat of parasites. Contact our Harbor Pines Veterinary Center team, who can recommend the best parasite prevention options to keep your furry pal safe from disease.