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Educate clients about mosquito-borne diseases


West Nile Virus is in the news again. Arm your clients with information to help keep their pets safe.

As rain rolls into some parts of the United States, mosquito populations are on the rise. A West Nile virus outbreak that is turning out to be one of the deadliest in history is affecting humans-but what about pets? Ease your veterinary clients' concerns with this information, from Dr. Heidi Brassler, owner of Brassler Veterinary Hospital in Salisbury, Mass.

While dogs and cats are susceptible to West Nile, horses are more likely to become ill from West Nile virus than other mammals. Most will recover with supportive medical care, but up to 40 percent will die from the disease. Infected horses do not directly infect people or other horses. We do not know whether an infected horse can cause a mosquito feeding on it to become infected.

Fortunately, disease from West Nile virus in dogs and cats is rare. Most infected pets have mild clinical signs that clients may not even notice. Encourage clients to contact your veterinary clinic if they are at all concerned about their pets.

Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) is another mosquito-borne virus. It also cycles between birds and mosquitoes, with mammals being accidental hosts. EEE can cause inflammation of the brain, and horses are more susceptible than most other mammals.

A more common threat to cats and dogs from mosquitoes is heartworm disease. Baby heartworms are carried by mosquitoes and deposited into pets during a blood meal. These larvae mature and migrate into the heart and lungs of our pets, causing severe and life-threatening illness. Wildlife are reservoirs, providing a constant source of infection to mosquitoes. A single bite from an infected mosquito can make pets sick.

So how can clients protect themselves, their family and pets pets from mosquito-borne disease?

  • Dump stagnant water that may be in the yard. It doesn't take much water to create mosquito breeding grounds. Water collecting in outdoor drains, buckets, kiddie swimming pools, flower pots and old tires are ideal hot spots.

  • Avoid outdoor play after dusk. Mosquito feeding increases as the sun sets. Staying indoors during this time will reduce exposure to mosquito bites.

  • Use insect repellent on people. According to the CDC, those containing DEET are among the most effective and longest-lasting. A product containing 23 percent DEET provides about five hours of protection from mosquito bites. Human insect repellents are not licensed for use on cats and dogs. Since products applied to the coats of pets are usually licked off and ingested, it is best to avoid their use.

  • Remember Fido's and Fluffy's monthly heartworm prevention. Heartworms are blood parasites that are virtually 100 percent preventable, but the medicine must be given every month.

  • Don't discontinue heartworm prevention at this time of year. The mosquitoes can be active for many more months.
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