Fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and intestinal worms cause all manner of diseases in pets and people. Despite their small size, these tiny parasites can pack a serious, sometimes life-threatening, punch when your furry pal’s health is involved. But, by understanding the diseases parasites can transmit, and being able to promptly spot illness in your pet, you can better protect your four-legged friend and your family from parasitic threats.

Let’s take a look at “The Big Four”—heartworm disease, Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis. These parasitic diseases are some of the most common conditions transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks, and can wreak serious havoc on your pet’s health. More importantly, you can also be infected with these diseases, although heartworm disease in people is incredibly rare.

What is heartworm disease in pets?

You should consider heartworm disease prevention as the number one priority for your pet. Did you know that it only takes one mosquito bite to infect your pet with this deadly disease? Did you know that in dogs, one injection, Proheart 12, can protect your pet for a full year?

Transmitted by mosquitoes, heartworm disease is primarily a canine disease, although any mammal can be affected. After an infected mosquito bites your pet, the immature heartworm larvae take about six months to reach adulthood as they travel through your pet’s bloodstream to their heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels. The larvae damage your pet’s vasculature as they migrate, and can cause serious illness. Over the course of a dog’s battle with heartworm disease, they’ll display a dry, hacking cough, exercise intolerance, fatigue, inappetence, and potentially abdominal fluid accumulation from congestive heart failure. Treatment for dogs is challenging, painful, long-term, and costly.

In cats, heartworm disease can cause more varied illness, including asthma-like signs, vomiting, seizures, and difficulty walking. A single adult heartworm can kill a cat without warning, but unfortunately, no treatment for heartworm disease is available for cats. 

What is Lyme disease in pets?

Transmitted by the black-legged tick, or deer tick, Lyme disease is perhaps the most infamous of the tick-borne illnesses. Lyme disease can infect dogs, people, and, in rare cases, cats, and can be transmitted to your entire household. Common signs in dogs include shifting-leg lameness, fever, lethargy, and swollen lymph nodes. Pets may develop the classic bullseye lesion associated with Lyme disease in people, which is difficult to tell under their fur. With full-body tick checks when coming indoors, and by avoiding prime tick habitat, you can prevent Lyme disease from affecting your family. Fast action is vital for prevention, because black-legged ticks must remain attached and feed for about 48 hours before they can transmit the Lyme bacterium.

What is anaplasmosis in pets?

Transmitted by the brown dog and the black-legged ticks, two anaplasmosis varieties are typically found in dogs, and can appear with Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and ehrlichiosis. Anaplasma phagocytophilum causes illness similar to Lyme disease, with lameness, joint pain, fever, and lethargy the most common signs. Anaplasma platys affects the body’s platelets, leading to blood clotting issues, exhibited by abnormal bruising and bleeding. A 30-day antibiotics course typically gives pets an excellent long-term prognosis, with little danger of ongoing issues.

What is ehrlichiosis in pets?

Transmitted primarily by the brown dog and lone star ticks, several types of Ehrlichia bacteria can affect pets, with canine monocytic ehrlichiosis and canine granulocytic ehrlichiosis the two most common forms. 

The monocytic form has three phases—acute, subclinical, and chronic—with varying signs and ease of treatment. The acute phase generally develops about three weeks after a tick bite, and can showcase fever, lethargy, lymph node enlargement, bruising, bleeding, eye inflammation, and neurologic abnormalities. If left untreated, many dogs who enter the subclinical phase, when the only sign is a low platelet count, appear to get better on their own. However, some dogs may progress and reach the chronic phase, which has similar signs to the acute phase, but is more difficult to treat.

Signs in dogs with the granulocytic form can include fever, lethargy, lameness, vomiting, diarrhea, and neurologic abnormalities. Although ehrlichiosis is a serious disease that can cause long-lasting illness, pets whose illness is caught and treated early can make a full recovery. Of course, prevention is the best medicine when it comes to parasitic diseases.

Don’t leave your furry pal unprotected against the threat of heartworm disease, Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis. Contact our Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital team for a wellness visit and 4DX test, and ensure you are well-stocked with parasite prevention products.