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With the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil just around the corner, concerns about the Zika virus have filled the news. But Zika is only one of many diseases, both mild and serious, spread by insects such as mosquitoes and ticks. These vector-borne diseases affect people all over the world, and our dog and cat companions are susceptible to many of these same infections. Pet owners need to be vigilant to keep their pets healthy and happy during the “biting” season.

Ticks and mosquitoes are the main culprits in the transmission of serious illnesses to dogs and cats (as well as other companion species and people). Mosquitoes transmit heartworm disease, West Nile virus, and Eastern equine encephalitis. Diseases transmitted by ticks include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, babesiosis and ehrlichiosis.

It’s important to know what diseases are common in the area where you and your pet live, and to make sure you learn about local diseases when taking a vacation with your pet. Even a pet kept mostly indoors, while typically at lower risk, is not safe from infection. For example, statistics show that approximately 25 percent of cat heartworm disease cases are diagnosed in strictly indoor cats.

Outdoor pets need to be checked daily for any ticks or other external parasites. Take special care to examine pets if you live near or walk in heavily wooded areas. Regular grooming also helps with monitoring your pet for parasites. If you note any parasites on your pet, you can remove them manually taking care not to crush or squeeze them (especially ticks). You also can get professional help removing ticks; many veterinarians can help remove ticks safely.

Prevention remains the key to avoiding dangerous infections. There are many different flea and tick repellant products available for our pets, and many of these products also contain heartworm disease preventives. Your veterinarian can guide you on which products are appropriate for your pet.

Climate change has altered disease patterns worldwide, with many diseases – and vectors – moving into new areas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website is an excellent source of information on newly recognized diseases affecting pets and people, as well as tracking current infectious disease trends. The CDC Division of Vector-Borne Diseases has extensive information about how diseases are transmitted, the vectors involved and prevention strategies.

Morris Animal Foundation continues to be a leader in understanding emerging infectious diseases. Learn more about our infectious disease studies in companion animals and join us to improve the lives of animals worldwide.