With flea, tick and mosquito season upon us we should be actively protecting ourselves and our pets from the diseases that can be spread by these hungry, biting insects.
Fleas can trigger your dog or cat to have a case of flea allergy dermatitis. Your pet may lick and chew itself raw overnight and you may face a pet with open, bloody sores in the morning. Some animals are more sensitive to the flea bites and may show the signs I described, while other animals in the household may have the same number of fleas, but may not be particularly bothered by them….at the moment. Fleas can also carry tapeworms. If your pet eats the flea he can get infected with this parasite. Fleas drink blood as their sole food source, so they can also cause anemia. This anemia is usually seen in very young animals or in animals that are already run down from something else. Fleas can also spread the bacteria Yersinia pestis. This is the organism that causes the plague or the Black Death that was seen during the Middle Ages. This disease can still be seen in the southwest US where it is found sporadically in the local prairie dog population. Fleas can go back and forth between, cats, dogs, rabbits, prairie dogs and humans as well as other species to spread blood borne illnesses.
Ticks can carry many diseases to our pets and to us. Lyme disease is one of the first diseases that come to mind living in the Northeast US. There are many other diseases that they can carry including; Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick paralysis, Anaplasma and Erlichia as well as other diseases of domestic animals and humans. We recently discussed Lyme disease in this forum, so I will not go into detail about that disease today.
Mosquitos can also spread serious diseases to our pets and to us. Heartworm disease is one of the major concerns for our dogs and cats. It is a parasite that lives in the heart of domestic and wild dogs (wolves, coyotes, coydogs) and sometimes cats. This worm can grow to be more than a foot long and can lead to severe heart failure and possibly death if untreated. This disease used to be rarely seen in northern New York. That is not the case any longer. We see dogs in northern New York with cases of Heartworm disease each year. There are several preventatives on the market which must be used whenever there are active mosquitos. West Nile virus has been one of the most advertised mosquito borne diseases over the past few years, but we also see cases of EEE (Eastern Equine Encephalitis) in central and upstate New York. In other parts of the world mosquitos spread malaria as well as other types of encephalitis (infection of the brain). There are very effective vaccines available for some of these diseases that I mentioned, but they need to be given before the animal is bitten by the infected mosquito. Some of the diseases require that monthly preventatives be given (Heartworm) or even daily (Malaria). Others require avoidance of the mosquito altogether (EEE).
In conclusion, I encourage people to undertake controls for fleas, ticks and mosquitos as well as the diseases that they may be carrying. These controls may entail eliminating free standing water where mosquitos breed; to applying a topical monthly product to kill or repel these insects; to vaccinating your pet against Lyme disease; to giving a monthly preventative to kill Heartworm larvae that may have been injected into your pet by mosquitos; to avoiding the times of day and the places where these parasites are living and active. Please visit or contact your veterinarian for more specifics in regard to your pets.
Tony Beane, DVM
Professor of Veterinary Science Technology SUNY Canton
Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Potsdam Humane Society