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Mosquitoes Are a Hazard to Your Pet's Health Too
by: Scottie Johnson
None of us likes to be bitten by mosquitoes and sometimes it is easy to forget that our pets suffer from mosquito bites too.
Mosquitoes feed on blood, and they will take it where they can find it. Only the female bites, the males feed on plant nectar. While the female may have preferred hosts, she must have protein from blood to produce eggs. And, one blood meal is often not enough to produce a clutch of eggs. Often the female will feed, rest to digest the meal and feed again up to three times before she can get enough protein to produce her eggs.
So, each time your pet is outside in mosquito territory, it is a sitting target for a hungry female mosquito that is eager to reproduce.
Many species of mosquitoes will choose birds over humans or pets, but they have even been known to feed on frogs and other reptiles, if that is what they can find for a blood meal.
Most responsible pet owners know of the hazards from mosquito bites associated with heartworm disease in cats and dogs. Mosquitoes carry parasite larvae, which they transmit to your pet once they bite. The parasite larvae then migrate to the heart and major circulatory organs in your pet, where it develops into an adult worm that can reach ten inches in length.
The problem with heartworms is that they can take many years to develop into an adult that can cause symptoms in your cat or dog. Dogs are usually more at risk than cats, simply because they are usually outdoors more often. By the time the symptoms develop, treatment is long and difficult. Sometimes the pet owner is unaware of the problem until the animal simply dies during exertion, a tragic ending that is very preventable.
Protection against heartworms is as easy as a trip to your veterinarian. Many effective medicines, which are given orally, can prevent development of the larvae, if an infected mosquito bites your pet. The biggest failure of these medicines is pet owner default. They must be administered faithfully once per month with no lapse in treatment. And, just because it seems like mosquito season is at bay, don't lapse and forget to give your pet its dose. Many mosquitoes over-winter in protected places and they arouse ready to bite long before you might expect them.
Luckily, it is now possible to get a shot for your pet that will afford protection against heartworms for up to six months. Even diligent and caring pet owners can sometimes forget about the narrow window of opportunity for administering the oral medication. This new advancement spares you and your pet the risky aftermath of those lapses.
Now, pet owners have an even greater concern about mosquito bites to their pets. While rare, West Nile virus has been reported in both dogs and cats. There are very few reported cases of pet fatalities in dogs and cats, but the risk still exists. Instead, most of the time, the animal may test positive for the virus, without having symptoms.
If your pet has West Nile virus, it may have the following symptoms: fever, depression or lethargy, muscle weakness or spasms, impaired coordination, seizures or paralysis. If your pet has these symptoms, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Bird and horse owners should be much more concerned. West Nile virus is primarily fatal to many bird species. Crows, for example, are very susceptible to fatal cases. Sparrows, on the other hand, easily contract it, but have no symptoms. And, migratory birds like sparrows help to continue the spread of the virus because they are highly mobile.
Of those birds that are kept as pets, parrots, cockateels and parakeets are most at risk. The risk factor is lower because they are seldom outside. If your home is well sealed and has good screens, these pets should be easily protected, if kept indoors.
Horse owners are now able to protect their horses with a very effective vaccine. Horses are particularly susceptible to mosquito borne viruses, and it is difficult to keep them away from outdoor exposure, even in barns and stalls. No such vaccine exists for smaller animals.
The same thing that protects you against mosquito diseases also protect your pets. Prevention!
Keep your home and yard mosquito free by being sure that mosquitoes don't have places to breed. Avoid allowing any water to stand in containers, like buckets, birdbaths, pet bowls, gutters, storm drains, and plant saucers. Many mosquitoes need only ¼ cup of water to breed.
The FDA has traditionally advised keeping your pet indoors around dawn and dusk, because that is when many mosquito species feed. That advice is no longer enough to protect your pet. The Asian tiger mosquito is an aggressive day biter. It was imported to the United States in 1985 and is now found in 30 states. It carries both West Nile virus and heartworm parasites.
Instead, get rid of any possible breeding sites and also get a good pet insect repellant. Mosquito repellants made for humans are not to be used on pets. Never put any repellant on pets that is not DEET free. Instead get a repellant that is made for veterinary use and apply only according to directions. With your pets, you have to assume they may lick treated areas and you can't afford to take a chance that the repellant may be toxic to them.
For example, tea tree oil is a good natural mosquito repellent for humans, but it has proved fatal to some cats that have licked it off of their fur.
And, consider getting a propane powered mosquito trap to reduce mosquito populations in your yard. They are very effective, although expensive, but actually kill hundreds of mosquitoes if used according to the manufacturers directions. Over time these devices can actually decrease mosquito populations.
Mosquitoes are here to stay. Our best defense for our pets is to know how to avoid them, and how to keep our pets safe using the latest scientific advances. And, many of the things we do to protect our pets from mosquito borne diseases are good for us too.
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