Mosquitoes and Flies, Oh My!

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It’s summertime here in Missouri, which means plenty of heat and humidity. Conditions are perfect for mosquitoes and flies to thrive. These pests can transmit a multitude of diseases to your pet, so it’s important to be educated on them.

            Heartworm disease is probably the most common mosquito-borne disease in pets, affecting dogs, cats and ferrets. This disease is transmitted when a mosquito feeds on the blood of an infected pet and then bites a healthy pet. Mosquitoes are crucial to the heartworm lifecycle; heartworms couldn’t spread without them! An infected pet’s blood contains microscopic baby heartworms known as microfilariae. Microfilariae travel through the bloodstream to the heart and lungs, where they mature into adult heartworms and start reproducing, damaging the organs and clogging blood vessels. 

            Treatment for heartworm disease can be very complicated and costly, usually taking about 6 months to complete. If left untreated, the disease can be fatal. This means that for heartworms, prevention really is the best medicine! Make sure to keep up with your pet’s heartworm preventative year round. Missouri weather is notoriously unpredictable, and even in winter it can get warm enough to support mosquitoes, and therefore, heartworms. Come by My Zoo any time this month and ask about our giveaway that helps you remember your monthly heartworm prevention!

            There are many other mosquito-borne diseases that can be transmitted to pets. Cats are prone to Mosquito Bite Hypersensitivity, which is a reaction to a mosquito bite that can cause lesions, hair loss, fever, and swelling of the affected area, paw pads, and/or lymph nodes. Pets can even be susceptible to the West Nile Virus (and yes, we do have that in Missouri!). While it is rare in dogs and cats (although very young, elderly, and immunocompromised pets are at a higher risk), the virus can easily be transmitted to pet birds.

            Non-biting flies may seem a lot less worrisome than mosquitoes, but they can also cause real harm to your pets. Outside pets in particular can fall prey to fly strike, also known as myiasis or maggot infestation. There are several types of flies that can cause fly strike, but most common is bot flies.  Fly strike can occur in a few different ways. One way is that an adult fly lays its eggs somewhere outside and a wandering pet brushes up against them, getting the fly eggs in the pet’s fur. Once the eggs hatch into maggots, the maggots begin invading the pet’s skin.  Another way fly strike can happen is when adult flies lay eggs directly in or on the skin of a pet. This usually happens if the pet has unclean living conditions such as being near open waste, having urine or feces matted into their fur, or having untreated open wounds.

            Fly strike is most common in the summer months. In some cases of infestation, you may be able to see maggots on the pet, but other times you may just notice a swollen area or areas about ½ in diameter on the skin. Sometimes pets will also have neurological issues such as balance problems, blindness, or seizures. Fly strike can occur in almost any type of mammal, including rodents and rabbits. If you have an outdoor rabbit hutch, make sure you are keeping it dry and as free from waste material as possible.

            So what can you do to prevent your pet from becoming afflicted with these nasty diseases? The main thing is to limit potential mosquito and fly breeding grounds around your home. Get rid of any standing water that might be found in places such as bird baths, empty flower pots, or improperly drained gutters, and change the water in outdoor pet bowls frequently.  Properly dispose of any decaying organic matter or animal waste around your home. Also make sure your window screens are in good shape to protect your inside pets. It may be tempting to use bug sprays or insect-repelling essential oils on your pets, but those can be highly toxic. There are, however, certain plants that help to repel mosquitoes: rosemary, mint, basil, catnip, and lavender are among some of the safest plants to have around pets for this purpose. Last, but certainly not least, make sure your pet is always getting heartworm preventative. By taking just a few easy steps, you can ensure your pet stays happy and pest-free this summer!

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