Prevention is the Best Protection
‘Tis the Season’, for ticks, mosquitoes and ringworm that is. Prevention of all of these is possible, but you should also be aware of what to look out for. Mosquito bites for dogs and cats are more than just a nuisance. Mosquitoes can transmit heartworms to both. Dogs are natural hosts for the worms as are foxes and coyotes. Mosquitoes can acquire the worms from animals in the wild and then transmit them to your dog or cat. Heartworm disease can cause permanent damage to hearts, lungs, and blood vessels of infected animals, so even though some treatments are available, prevention is key. It is important not to miss heartworm prevention doses, as the preventative treatments are not effective if an infected mosquito has already bitten your dog. Also, if your dog missed a prevention dose, you can’t find out right away if your dog was infected because there is no way to detect a recent infection. Adult worms take up to 6 months to develop in dogs as do initial symptoms which can be a persistent cough, a reluctance to exercise, and weight loss. As the disease progresses, their bellies can become swollen from fluid retention and they may develop heart failure.
In cats, the disease is very different and also harder to detect. The worms never fully mature in cats, but that does not mean that the immature worms can’t be deadly, it only means it is very hard to detect the worms in cats. Infected cats can develop heartworm-associated respiratory disease (HARD), and unlike for dogs, there is no treatment. The treatment used in dogs is toxic to cats. Although disease is rarer in cats, they are still at risk. Heartworm infections can only be acquired from mosquitoes and can not be transmitted directly from animal to animal.
Ringworm is very different from Heartworm in multiple ways. First off, it is not a worm but a fungus that is very similar to the fungus that causes athletes foot. Secondly, the most common mode of transmission is from animal to animal, and third, cats are more often infected than dogs, but dogs can get ringworm too. The summer months tend to be the most common time for ringworm infections. The fungus can be found naturally in the environment such as in soil, and many wild and domestic animals can carry the infection. If one animal acquires the infection from the environment, then that one animal can spread the infection to other animals and people as well. Ringworm, unlike heartworm is easily transmitted through direct contact with animals (including for instance, cats having contact with mice) and also through indirect contact with bedding and toys (people can also acquire the infection in “moist places” such as locker rooms, showers and pool decks). Cats often exhibit the classic signs of symmetrical round areas of hair loss. Cats with weaker immune systems such as kittens are more likely to develop symptoms, whereas, adult cats may have asymptomatic infections, meaning there are no obvious symptoms at all, but they can still carry and spread the infection. If you have an infected animal, you should have all your animals tests and potentially treated (even if they don’t “appear” to have ringworm). Definitely check with your vet. Your infected animal should also be “quarantined” in your house, with a thorough “mechanical cleaning” of places the animal would have contacted. Scrubbing does a better job at removing ringworm spores on surfaces, than any disinfectant, so you don’t have to try to use harsh chemicals, but you do need to use some elbow grease and be very thorough. Ringworm is mostly a nuisance and is not usually life threatening to pets or people, but it is uncomfortable and can persist for months so its best to try to avoid infection, and in particular to contain infections once they have been detected.
Summer is also tick season, and although we are all most familiar with Lyme disease, there are many other reasons to avoid ticks both for you and your pets. The Ixodes black legged ticks, also known as deer ticks, not only carry Lyme but several other pathogens that can infect you and your dog, and also your cat. Cats, dogs, and people can all acquire anaplasmosis. It’s a bacterial infection that leads to lethargy and high fevers. Dogs and cats can also experience lameness, joint pain and loss of appetite, but the disease is much more frequent in dogs than cats. These symptoms are similar to Lyme disease, so a blood test is necessary to distinguish them. Anaplasma can be transmitted after a nymphal Ixodes tick has been attached for 24 hours, but for Lyme disease the tick has to be attached for 48 hrs for transmission to occur. It is important to familiarize yourself with the different types of ticks and their different life stages: larvae, nymph, and adult because different species of ticks and at different life stages pose very different risk for disease. Most often infections are transmitted by the nymphal stage of the deer tick and not the adults or the larvae.
A disease to watch for in cats is something called cytauxzoonosis. It has not yet been found in CT, but the tick that carries it, the Lone Star tick (it gets its name from the spot on its back not geography) is becoming more common in CT as are bobcats, which are the natural host for this disease. Infected Bobcats have been found as close as Pennsylvania. If your cat appears sick don’t wait to see if it gets better, take your cat to a vet right away. This infection can be deadly and we don’t know when the first case will appear in CT. This disease is caused by a parasite called Babesia. There are several different types of Babesia parasites including different species that can infect dogs and also humans. Dogs are most likely to be infected with a particular Babesia species that is transmitted by a brown dog tick (unlike humans that get a different Babesia parasite from deer ticks). It does take 24-48hrs for the parasites to be transmitted, so prompt removal of ticks is key to preventing infection. Keep in mind however, that even uninfected ticks can pose a risk, so it’s always best to prevent tick bites or promptly remove a feeding tick early. “Tick paralysis” is not caused by an infection, but by something in the tick saliva, and it can be transmitted by many different tick species. It is usually caused by adult female ticks (they take the biggest bloodmeals and feed the longest) that have been attached for at least 4 days.. Exactly how the ticks cause the paralysis is not clear, but luckily usually quick removal of the tick makes the paralysis also quickly disappear. The symptoms of tick paralysis are sudden “lameness” or some partial paralysis and difficulty breathing, as well as a difference in vocalizations. If your dog (this is very rare in cats in the US) exhibit these symtoms search for an attached tick and remove it promptly. If ticks are not found and removed, your dog can get progressively worse and the condition can lead to death. Speaking of tick removal, it is important to do it correctly. Do not pull on the body of the tick or you are likely to “break” the tick and leave the mouth parts attached. You need to grab the tick with tweezers as close to the skin attachment site as possible and pull firmly to remove the tick (ticks actually secrete a cement that allows them to stick to their host during feeding). Doing things like putting Vaseline or alcohol on the tick while it is still attached, doesn’t help. You always want to remove the tick.
As is always the case “Prevention is the best medicine” and it especially true when it comes to mosquitoes and ticks and ringworm in your pets. Also keep in mind that sometimes the things that pose the biggest risks for us and our pets are not always the things we hear the most about.