Dr. Pawz: Preventing mosquitoes, ticks in your pets

Katy Nelson, special to wtop.com

Editor’s Note: Dr. Katy Nelson, also known as WTOP’s Dr. Pawz, is a veterinarian in the D.C. area. She will answer your pet questions in her blog on Wednesdays or during WTOP live chats.


Dr. Katy Nelson is a veterinarian in Alexandria, Va. (Courtesy Katy Nelson)

WASHINGTON – Did you know that dogs can be bitten by as many as 500 mosquitoes per day in peak season?

Mosquitoes are on the move in the United States. Tropical species of mosquitoes are now being found as far north as Minnesota and as far west as Nevada.

So, what does this mean for our pets? Mosquitoes are more than just pesky little bugs. Over 70 species of mosquito have been shown capable of transmitting dangerous heartworms to dogs and cats. And only half of owned dogs and 5 percent of cats actually receive heartworm preventative. This is devastating news for the health of our pets.

Many people still believe that heartworm disease is a “Southern dog disease.” Perhaps in the early days of research on this disease, this could have been perceived as true. But now it is blatantly obvious that this is a disease spread throughout the U.S. It is quickly reaching epidemic proportions.

Why is this? For many years, veterinarians have told their clients that in “their” part of the country, or during “this” time of year, heartworm prevention isn’t necessary. We now know better than this.

As urban sprawl continues — and shopping centers and parking lots continue to create “heat islands” that are capable of moderating temperatures throughout seasonal changes — we create microcosms for these parasitic vectors to survive.

A mosquito larva can survive in any small puddle — even a flowerpot. This is why heartworm prevention is essential for dogs and cats. No matter where you live, no matter your lifestyle, dogs and cats should be on heartworm prevention. Even if you have an inside only cat or mini-dog, this still holds true.

Mosquitoes can travel through doors, windows or even on fabrics into your home and infect your pet. It’s much better for your pets’ health to be safe than sorry.

Unfortunately, mosquitoes aren’t the only little buggers that you need to worry about. Ticks are on the move, too.

Ticks that used to only be found along the Gulf Coast are turning up in the Central U.S., and their parasites and diseases are going along for the ride, too. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease and Ehrlichiosis are being diagnosed all over the country, both in animals and in people.

Bartonellosis, or cat scratch disease, is also on the rise. The causative agent, Bartonella henselae, is transmitted between cats by fleas. It is an under- diagnosed disease since the symptoms are hard to pin-point.

Fleas also carry tapeworms, which can cause severe gastrointestinal, as well as system-wide, problems in household pets.

So here’s the bottom line: Talk to your veterinarian about having your pet on monthly parasite preventatives.

Many preventatives on the market are “cross-pollinators,” meaning that a flea and tick preventative can also prevent mosquitoes. Likewise, a heartworm preventative can prevent intestinal parasite infestation.

You can protect yourself, your family and your pet with a monthly dosage of pet medication. Call your veterinarian today.

Dr. Katy Nelson is an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va. Tune in to “The Pet Show” with Dr. Katy every Saturday at 11 a.m. on Washington D.C.’s News Channel 8, and listen on WTOP for her Dr. Pawz segments every two weeks. Have questions for Dr. Katy? You can follow her on Twitter @drkatynelson, on Facebook or email her at askdrkaty@wtop.com.

Follow @WTOPLiving on Twitter.

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