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Click each image above to see the spread of heartworm disease in America

Your Pet may have a Hitchhiker on Board!

Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories are finding heartworm disease and tick diseases (specifically ehrlichia are on the rise in Solano County.

  Heartworm disease didn’t used to be a problem in Solano but the increased travel of pet owners with their pets to endemic areas such as the bay area, southern CA and the east coast are increasing exposure and infection.

  Ehrlichiosis is a tick-borne infectious disease of dogs and has been found in hunting dogs who hunt up north towards Redding and the hills of Sacramento.  The time has come to reconsider our county boundaries.  Pets accompanying families during travel  to other counties has become a normal occurrence, in turn, exposure potential and infection is on the rise.  So, what is heartworm disease?  What is Ehrlichiosis? 

Heartworm disease comes from an organism transmitted by the mosquito only.  More than 70 species of mosquitoes are capable of transmitting heartworm.   A mosquito will bite an infected animal and then transmit the heartworm larva when biting another animal.  The process of adult development detection for heartworm is 6-8 months, but testing for the larva can be done within 2-3 mos.

 Virtually 100% of dogs exposed to infective heartworm larvae become infected; in cats, this number drops to 61% to 90%.  Infection potential is significant for your pet because heartworms may infect more than 30 species of animals including coyotes, foxes, wolves and other wild canids, domestic cats and wild felids, ferrets, marine mammals, and humans.

The average lifespan of heartworms in untreated pets is 5-7 years in dogs and 2-3 years in cats.  Many dogs recover from heartworm disease with appropriate treatment, but heartworms cause severe disease sometimes permanent damage resulting in heart disease.  Therefore prevention is far more effective and less costly than treatment.

The Ehrlichia organism is a rickettsial organism. Rickettsiae are similar to bacteria. Ehrlichia canis is the most common rickettsial species involved in ehrlichiosis in dogs, but there are other strains.  It is transmitted to dogs through the bite of infected ticks. The brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus, is the main carrier of the Ehrlichia organism in nature.  Rickettsiae functionally affect their host with signs such as difficulty clotting blood, bruising, fever, respiratory distress and occasionally neurological disturbance. 

Possibilities due exist for a pet to naturally eliminate the organism, and these pets tend to be “subclinical”, not exhibiting any outward signs of infection.  However, those dogs that remain subclinical either eliminate the organism or progress to clinical (visible) Ehrlichiosis   Clinical Ehrlichiosis occurs because the immune system is not able to eliminate the organism. Dogs are likely to develop several problems if their immune system cannot compete with the disease.  Some signs include: anemia, bleeding episodes, lameness, eye problems (including hemorrhage into the eyes), neurological problems, and swollen limbs.

It may be difficult to diagnose infected dogs during the very early stages of infection. The immune system usually takes two to three weeks to respond to the presence of the organism and develop antibodies.

Since the presence of antibodies to Ehrlichia canis is the basis of the most common diagnostic test, in the early stages of disease dogs may be infected yet test negative. Testing performed a few weeks later will reveal the presence of antibodies and make confirmation of the diagnosis possible.

Treatment can be long and arduous, but it is possible for pets to survive.  Dogs experiencing severe anemia or bleeding problems may require a blood transfusion and antibiotics for 6 weeks.  Your veterinarian will be able to discuss an effective plan.

Prevention is the key to omitting heartworm and ehrlichiosis from your pet.  Ridding the dog’s environment of ticks and applying flea and tick preventives are the most effective means of prevention. For heartworm, a monthly preventative is effective.  It is always less expensive physically and financially to prevent these diseases than to treat.

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