As you slather on the mosquito and tick repellent before going for a hike, don’t forget that your furry friend also needs protection against these pesky parasites, and the diseases they carry—namely, heartworm disease and Lyme disease.

Mosquitoes and heartworm disease in pets

For people, mosquito bites are an annoying part of summer, but for your pets, a mosquito bite could turn deadly if that mosquito is carrying heartworm larvae. The larvae will enter your pet, mature, travel to the heart, and begin to cause potentially irreversible damage. 

Heartworm disease signs in pets

In dogs, the heart damage may be asymptomatic initially, but eventually leads to:

  • Coughing, or difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy, rapid fatigue, or unwillingness to exercise
  • Enlarged abdomen due to fluid accumulation
  • Collapse, or sudden death

Cats are more resistant to heartworm disease than dogs, but may still be infected. They may be asymptomatic, or show the following signs:

  • Coughing, difficulty breathing, or asthma attacks
  • Periodic vomiting, lack of appetite, or weight loss
  • Collapse, or sudden death

Heartworm disease diagnosis in pets

All dogs 7 months and older should be tested annually for heartworm disease, using a simple, reliable blood test that detects adult female heartworms. Larvae take six months to develop into detectable adults, so newly acquired dogs, or those not previously on preventive, should be tested and then retested in six months, to ensure the first test did not miss an immature infection. Should your dog test positive for heartworms, our Stack Veterinary Hospital team will use chest X-rays and blood work to determine infection severity, and create a treatment plan.

Cats may have only male worms, only a few worms, immature infections, or exposure that doesn’t lead to infection, making heartworm disease more challenging to diagnose than in dogs. A combination of imaging and blood tests indicating exposure to worms, or the presence of female worms, is used for diagnosis, and only cats suspected to have heartworm disease are tested. 

Heartworm disease prevention for pets

To avoid your pet suffering from heartworm disease, administer a veterinarian-prescribed heartworm preventive orally or topically each month, to kill any larvae that infected your pet during the previous month. All pets, including indoor pets, should receive heartworm preventives year-round for optimal defense. Some combination flea, tick, and heartworm prevention products provide additional protection by repelling mosquitoes. Check out our April 2020 blog post for more information on the many prevention products available, and schedule a consultation with our Stack Veterinary Hospital team, to determine the best products for your pet before placing your order from our online store

Ticks and Lyme disease in dogs

Ticks can carry a plethora of diseases, with Lyme disease the most well-known. While cats appear to be relatively resistant, dogs may be in real danger if they contract the Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, from an infected black-legged tick bite. 

Lyme disease signs in dogs

Many dogs exposed to Lyme disease are asymptomatic, but others may experience:

  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Painful or swollen joints, and lameness that shifts from one leg or joint to another
  • Lethargy, and lack of appetite
  • Kidney, heart, or brain damage 

Lyme disease diagnosis in dogs

Dogs can be tested for Lyme disease exposure using blood work. Since not all dogs exposed to Lyme disease have a problematic infection, further diagnostics, such as a blood test, joint fluid analysis, X-rays, and urinalysis, are used to determine the best course of action for a dog who tests positive. 

Prevention of Lyme disease in dogs

Lyme disease prevention has three main facets, which are most effective when used together:

  1. Vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease — A Lyme disease vaccination can be used on a case-by-case basis. Consult our Stack Veterinary Hospital team to determine if vaccination is a good choice for your dog.
  2. Use tick preventives — Administer veterinarian-prescribed tick prevention products to repel and/or kill ticks, to decrease the risk of your dog being bitten by a Lyme disease-carrying tick. Check out our April 2020 blog post, and consult with our team for more information on selecting the best product for your pet’s lifestyle.
  3. Check for and remove ticks — Frequently check your dog for ticks after being outside, especially areas with tall grass or brush, where ticks like to live. To remove an attached tick, grasp it as close to the skin as possible with tweezers, and gently pull it off your pet. Don’t twist the tick, as this can cause its mouth parts to remain embedded in your pet’s skin. If this happens, remove the remaining mouth parts with tweezers. Never attempt to remove ticks with fire, gasoline, or other substances, which could be dangerous for your pet.

Now that you realize the importance of protecting your furry friends against heartworm disease and Lyme disease, give our Stack Veterinary Hospital team a call to schedule a heartworm test, discuss Lyme disease vaccination, or find the parasite preventive best suited to your pet.