Ask the Vet: Insect borne disease threatens animals and peopleQ: Ticks seem to be a big deal. Have they become more of a problem and concern, or are we just hearing more about them?
By: Dr. Amanda Bruce, Superior Telegram
Q: Ticks seem to be a big deal. Have they become more of a problem and concern, or are we just hearing more about them?
Ticks are a big deal. Once confined to certain geographic regions, ticks have expanded their ranges. The number of diseases that a certain species of tick may be carrying has changed dramatically in a relatively short period of time.
For example, let’s look at Ixodes Scapularis, the deer tick, which we see in our area. When I moved to this region a decade ago, we mainly saw dogs infected with Lyme disease. The majority of these dogs had the classic signs of fever, joint pain that shifted from leg to leg and lack of appetite. Gradually, we started seeing sick dogs that mimicked some of the signs of Lyme but weren’t testing positive. We began sending blood panels to the lab to look for an expanded range of tick diseases and started commonly coming across another bacteria carried by ticks, anaplasma.
Today, we deal with ticks that are co-infected, or carrying multiple bacteria capable of infecting us and our dogs. Prevalence maps of dogs in St. Louis County show that one in six dogs tests positive for Lyme disease or anaplasma, or both.
Dogs are considered “sentinels” for tick diseases. In other words, the risk a dog has for contracting one of these diseases directly correlates to the risk to humans in the region. There is a vaccine to protect against Lyme disease but nothing currently for anaplasma. At-risk dogs should be vaccinated for Lyme disease and placed on a tick preventative.
Q: Many pet owners are skeptical about the value of heartworm prevention in our northern climate. We don’t get many cases here. Can I go without heartworm medicine for my dog?
I speak with many people who are skeptical about the need for heartworm preventative. In reality, we do have a low incidence of heartworm disease this far north because our mosquito season is so short and conditions aren’t ideal for mosquitos to harbor heartworm disease.
But that’s not the case just a couple of hours south of here. Any dog traveling to the Twin Cities or central Wisconsin has a real risk of coming into contact with a mosquito potentially carrying the heartworm infection.
In my practice, we have moved toward recommending heartworm preventative on a year-round basis. Something the majority of people don’t know is most heartworm preventatives on the market treat not only heartworm but also roundworm and hookworm. Both of these intestinal parasites have the potential to infect people, something called a zoonotic disease.
When you look at data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10,000 people annually are diagnosed with roundworm infections. These infections can lead to neurologic conditions and potential blindness in humans. The majority of puppies and kittens are infected with roundworms, as are raccoons that may be using our backyards as latrines.
Roundworms are spread through the fecal/oral route. Children are at the greatest risk of infection, as they tend not to practice appropriate hand washing, spend time in sandboxes that pets frequent and indiscriminately put items into their mouths.
Keeping our dogs on year-round preventatives deworms our pets on a monthly basis, stopping these infections, which have the potential to harm people. Heartworm preventative is just one of the benefits of using these products on a monthly basis.
Dr. Amanda Bruce of Superior is owner of PetCare of Duluth. Submit questions to her at drbruce@PetCareofDuluth.com or 218-461-4400.