When it comes to our pets, mosquitoes are more than a nuisance—they can be deadly. In fact, the only way your dog or cat can get heartworms is from the bite of an infected mosquito. If your dog develops heartworm disease, treatment is a lengthy process that can be risky for your pet and costly to you. Even though cats are not the natural host for heartworms, they can and do become infected. And because the medication that kills heartworms in dogs is toxic to cats, there is currently no approved treatment available for cats with heartworm disease.
The first step in preventing mosquito-transmitted illnesses such as heartworm disease is to protect mosquito bites from occurring. Even for pets who stay indoors most of the time, it only takes one mosquito infected with heartworms to transmit the disease to your dog or cat. It's for this reason you must make sure your pet is on a heartworm preventative medication year-round.
You can take some simple steps to control the mosquito population in your own yard. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, so remove any sources of standing water. Treat your yard with a spray that kills mosquitoes, such as Sentry Yard and Premise Spray Concentrate. While not as effective, some people prefer natural mosquito repellents such as oil of lemon eucalyptus or the more well-known citronella which can be found in outdoor torches and candles, as well as lotions and sprays you apply to exposed skin.
If you use a topical flea and tick product on your dog, consider a product such as K9 Advantix II that works to repel mosquitoes before they bite, in addition to protecting your dog from fleas and ticks. Natural products such as Be Flea Free Spray and Be Flea Free Shampoo contain natural oils which help to repel mosquitoes as well as fleas.
Most species of mosquito are most active between dusk and dawn. Try to avoid letting your dog outside during times of peak mosquito activity, and keep your cat inside at all times if possible. Make sure your doors and windows have well-fitting screens to keep mosquitoes out of your home.
Mosquitoes are also the vector for the Zika virus. With the recent alarming news stories about Zika, many people are wondering if this is something they should be concerned about for their pets. We discussed this with holistic veterinarian Dr. Dym and our Pharmacy Director, Eddie Khoriaty.
At this time there is no evidence that dogs or cats can transmit or contract Zika virus, or show any symptoms of illness; however, the studies have really not been done, so the answer has to remain that we don't know with the current knowledge about the virus. In addition to paying close attention to recent research on this potentially emerging disease in humans in the United States, we can play an active role in controlling mosquitoes and reducing chances of people and pets being bitten by Aedes mosquitoes through eliminating breeding sites, using repellents, and reducing exposure. Mosquito control is the best defense, as well as realizing that these species of mosquitoes are aggressive daytime feeders. It is important to remove any standing water from flower pots, buckets or bowls to help eliminate mosquito nesting areas.
Fortunately there are effective topical veterinary mosquito repellents, such as K9 Advantix II and Bio Spot for Cats. Many of these products such as Revolution are also effective against the mosquito transmitted disease of heartworms, which is much more of a risk to dogs than Zika virus is at this time.
This is an important time to remember to keep pets on monthly heartworm preventative products to prevent this known mosquito-transmitted disease to our pets. There are also many naturally repellents available including herbs such as citronella, as well as topical oils such as geranium, lemon, cedarwood, rosemary, and soybean oils. Neem oil has also been a recently popular natural mosquito repellent used by many holistically-oriented clients.
While Zika virus is not yet believed to be a risk to our companion animals at this time, it is interesting to note that this virus is related to one in cows known as BVDV (Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus), which may cause brain and eye defects in calves. Hopefully continued study and research will show that Zika virus is not a threat to our companion animals.
Mosquitoes transmit the Zika virus to humans and they also transmit diseases to our pets. Our pharmacists have received alerts from Boards of Pharmacy around the country about the potential danger of mosquito bites. We have recently received an update which urges everyone around active mosquitoes to wear light colored clothing, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, shoes and socks. It is recommended to use an EPA-registered mosquito repellent and follow the label directions.
Although based on what we currently know, the Zika virus doesn't seem to be a risk to our pets, mosquitoes do transmit or cause a variety of other diseases that are dangerous to pets. While no method will provide 100% protection to you or your pet, you can significantly reduce the risk of getting a mosquito bite if you learn about mosquitoes and follow a few simple guidelines.