It’s Flea and Tick Season. Are you ready? You Should Be, and Here’s Why

Are you ready for flea and tick season?  A new report from the Centers for Disease Control reveals that vector-borne diseases, including those spread by ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas are increasing in the US.  These diseases impact humans and their pets.  Make sure you and your pets are protected this summer!

Cases of vector-borne diseases are increasing

The number of reported cases of disease spread by fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes, called vector-borne diseases, in the US tripled between 2004 and 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control in their Vital Signs report.  There are several reasons why incidence of these diseases is on the rise.  People are increasingly moving into forested areas and areas where wildlife is abundant.  Warmer climate extends the range of many insect vectors, and warmer winters prolong the length of the insect season. Although increasing surveillance may be responsible for an increased number of reports, the CDC warns that cases of these diseases are most likely underreported.

Vector-borne diseases in the United States

vector-borne diseases, ticks, fleas, mosquitoes, heartworm disease, tick season

Important diseases spread by vectors in the US, by region.  This table was created using data from the CDC.

Beware of ticks

We’re hearing reports from friends in northwest Arkansas and elsewhere that ticks are especially numerous this year, and by all accounts it is going to be a dangerous tick season.  Ticks are vectors for many diseases of humans and animals.  In the US, the most important tick-borne diseases are ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, babesiosis, and anaplasmosis. All of theses tick diseases affect domestic animals, especially dogs,  as well as humans.

Ticks transmit Cytauxzoonosis, a less well-known disease. This disease, which is often fatal, infects cats and causes systemic disease.  Symptoms include lethargy, decreased appetite, breathing difficulty, and pale gums (a sign of anemia).

Control fleas

Fleas are more than just a nuisance.  They can transmit some diseases that are harmful to both people and animals. We are all familiar with the series of plagues that decimated populations in Europe in centuries past.  But did you know that the same disease, bubonic plague, is present in parts of the US?  Prairie dogs and other animals in the Western and Southwestern US may carry this disease.

Fleas in all areas of the US may carry tapeworms.  When animals eat the fleas during grooming, they also ingest immature tapeworms which then mature in their gut.  Although tapeworms may also be transmitted through eating the flesh of infected rodents or other animals, wiping out fleas eliminates a major source of infection.

Fleas transmit cat scratch fever.  This disease is also called bartonellosis, and it generally does not cause symptoms in affected cats.  However, humans may contract the disease through cat bites or scratches.  Infection results in painful enlargement of lymph nodes in the area of the bite or scratch.

Fleas are vectors for another disease of cats, Mycoplasma hemofelis.  This organism causes anemia, sometimes severe and even fatal, in infected cats.

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Prevent mosquito bites

The number one reason to keep your pets away from mosquitoes is heartworm disease.  Although far more common in dogs, this disease also affects cats.  Even the bite of one infected mosquito may cause disease.  Heartworm disease has been reported in all areas of the US.  Where there are mosquitoes, there are heartworms.

Dogs and cats are not as susceptible as humans to the viral encephalitides, viral diseases that affect the nervous system.  West Nile virus affects birds.  Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus causes disease in horses and humans.  Owners can vaccinate horses against this disease.

Consult your veterinarian

Flea, tick, and mosquito control products for pets are available over the counter.  However, pest and parasite control in pets is a complex issue that involves both animal and environmental solutions.  Some animals are sensitive to certain types of products. Wherever you choose to buy these products, you should always consult with your veterinarian about the available options. Your veterinarian will be familiar with a variety of products and will be able to tell you which will be the best options for your pet and family this flea and tick season.

Learn More

The CDC is a good source of information about vector borne diseases.  Check out the visual map to learn more about the diseases in your area.  For veterinary-specific information, use the IDEXX Laboratories interactive map.

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