The enemy is approaching by wing and on foot, and your beloved pet is locked in their sights. Summer is here, and so are mosquitoes and ticks, bringing disease and illness. With big guns like heartworm and Lyme disease increasing in frequency every year, putting your pet in a bunker doesn’t seem safe enough—surely a mosquito would find its way in there, too. The Animal Clinic of Council Bluffs has you covered, with three key defenses that will help protect your pet from vector-borne diseases.


What is a vector-borne disease in pets?

A vector-borne disease is a pathogen transmitted by an intermediate host, such as the mosquito with heartworm disease, and the tick for Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis. 

  • Heartworm disease The organism that causes heartworm disease must pass through the mosquito to reach an infective life stage. Mosquitoes then act as dutiful henchmen and deliver the infective parasite when they bite your cat and dog.
  • Tick-borne diseases The tick’s life cycle requires that they feed from a host at least three times before reaching maturity, so picking up an infectious, hungry, bacterial hitchhiker is not difficult.


How can you protect your pet from vector-borne disease?

However, pet owners have three lines of defenses against heartworm and tick-borne diseases.

  • Internal defense The primary defense for cats and dogs is year-round prevention medication. Let’s take a look at how they work.
    • Heartworm preventives These kill the immature heartworm larvae (i.e., microfilariae) before they become adult heartworms and can damage and cause inflammation to the blood vessels, heart, and lungs. Preventive medication works retroactively, killing any circulating microfilariae less than a month old.
    • Flea and tick preventives These preventives are topical, and may include a repellent that deters ticks from biting. If a tick does bite, the toxic preventive kills the tick. Ticks require 24 hours of attachment time to transmit dangerous bacteria, and preventives capitalize on this window of time before the tick can unleash disease.


         To use these preventives to their maximum benefit, ensure that you follow these guidelines.

    • Know cats are vulnerable, too Heartworm disease in cats likely occurs more often than realized, because they suffer differently, and testing is not common, so they go undiagnosed. Indoor and outdoor cats should be given preventives and tested annually.
    • Administer preventives year-round Administer the product on the same day, at the same time, every time. Mosquitoes and ticks emerge on mild winter days, and mosquitoes can live indoors. Heartworm preventive’s retroactive treatment means your pet could become infected after a single missed dose, or by stopping treatment.
    • Read the instructions carefully Follow product directions exactly to ensure correct administration of each product. Give oral medications with a full meal to prevent vomiting.


  • Ground defense The protection phase takes place in the great outdoors, by securing the perimeter of your pet’s outside environment. Use a proactive approach whenever possible, including:
    • Keeping the yard tidy and parasite-free Keep grass short and clear out brush or weeds, to deter tick populations. Do not keep wood piles near your house. Remove any standing water where mosquitoes may breed.

    • Watching where you step  Mosquitoes and ticks are more pervasive than ever, because of wildlife migration and climate changes. While we cannot control where they are, we can limit where we go, and avoid walking in tall grasses and wooded areas during summer and early fall.
    • Establishing a tick-check routine Perform a thorough inspection after visiting any suspicious areas. Ticks are commonly found on a pet’s legs, ears, head, muzzle, and groin, and under the tail.
    • Knowing how to safely remove a tick Ticks must be removed using a particular method, for your pet’s safety, and yours.
    • Making your backyard a sanctuary Use mosquito control, such as citronella and bug zappers, but keep them away from pets.
    • Sealing home entry points Prevent mosquitoes from sneaking inside by repairing door seals and tears in window screens, and keeping doors and windows closed as much as possible.


  • Surveillance Regular veterinary care is vital for pet health. Heartworm-positive pets may show no signs in the early disease stages. Lyme disease, ehrlichia, and anaplasmosis can exist in pets subclinically. However, a skilled veterinary assessment and an annual screening test will expose hidden conditions, allowing for prompt treatment. A simple blood test is used to detect adult female heartworms, and the antibody response to tick-borne illnesses, indicating exposure.

Testing is important for dogs and cats regardless of whether they are on preventives. The best defenses can be breached, and chinks in the finest armor can be exposed. No prevention product is 100 percent effective in 100 percent of cases, and rare breakthrough infections do occur. Regularly screening a protected pet confirms the pet’s defenses—internal (i.e., preventives), and external (i.e., environmental modifications)—are functioning. Along with surveillance (i.e., veterinary monitoring)  these defenses allow for early diagnosis, and result in a better outcome.


The Animal Clinic of Council Bluffs knows you will do whatever is needed to protect your pet, and we feel the same way. Call us to discuss your pet’s prevention plan, or to schedule an appointment for a heartworm and tick screening test. We want to ensure your pet is defended in all three areas.