The tick season is here and the flea season is soon to follow. In addition to annoying our cats and dogs, these pests also act as vectors that spread a large number of diseases between animals.
Vector-borne diseases are transmitted by parasites that carry bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens. These diseases can be dangerous, but pets can usually avoid them with preventative medicine.
Dr. Guilherme Verocai, clinical assistant professor and director of the Parasitology Diagnostic Laboratory at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Dr. Maria Esteve-Gasent, Assistant Professor at the CVM, will discuss the various vector-borne diseases transmitted by fleas and ticks.
Verocai and Esteve-Gasent, both from CVM’s Veterinary Pathobiology Division, said that vector-borne diseases transmitted by fleas and ticks are a major threat to our pets and other animals.
The most common disease-causing flea is the common cat flea, which can transmit disease to both cats and dogs. Verocai said fleas carry bacterial pathogens, so most flea-borne diseases can be treated with antibiotics like doxycycline.
“Most of the cat flea life cycle takes place in the environment. Then they are highly adapted to our household and find a perfect place to live in crevices in the floor and on carpets,” said Verocai. “Therefore, adequate flea control programs should eliminate fleas in pets and environmental infestations and prevent subsequent infestations.”
In addition to spreading pathogens, fleas can cause anemia and severe itching and licking in dogs.
“Some dogs can also develop flea allergy dermatitis, which is an allergic reaction to flea saliva,” Verocai said.
Some fleas can even carry tapeworms, which live in the small intestines of pets but rarely cause symptoms. Dogs and cats can get these tapeworms if they ingest an infected flea while grooming.
Like fleas, ticks can transmit bacterial pathogens to a wide variety of animals, including dogs, cats, horses, cattle, and deer.
“Tick control is important not only to look after pets, but also to prevent a transmission cycle from being set up where the pathogens can be passed on to people in the household,” said Esteve-Gasent.
Ticks can transmit many diseases to pets, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Ticks also spread canine babesiosis, which Esteve-Gasent found the most common in pit bull dogs in a recent study.
Another tick-borne disease of great concern is tick-borne relapsing fever, which causes low platelet counts and increased bleeding. A 2016 project that Esteve-Gasent worked on found that this disease is often underdiagnosed in dogs but can be successfully treated with antibiotics.
“Most of the clinical symptoms associated with tick-borne diseases are lethargy, fever, weight loss, joint pain and swelling, weakness, enlarged spleen or lymph nodes, and changes in gum coloration,” she said.
For both fleas and ticks, there are several topical and oral options to ward off these pests. Pet owners are encouraged to contact their veterinarian to determine the best option for their pet and to remember that dog medication can be dangerous or even fatal to cats.
With the help of flea and tick medication, your pet can get through the summer and fall free from parasites and the diseases associated with them.