Mosquitoes can be a major nuisance during the warmer parts of the year. In the U.S., mosquito season can begin as early as February in the hotter parts of the country or as late as May in cooler regions.
These pesky parasites may seem relatively harmless aside from the occasional itchy bite but they can pose bigger problems for your pets. Mosquitoes can be irritating to your pet’s skin and can potentially cause a serious allergic reaction. Dogs, cats, and other pets are also susceptible to certain mosquito-borne diseases.
Before letting your furry friend spend time outside this summer, consider ways to protect your pet from skin irritation and possible disease. Learn more about the risks that mosquitoes pose and what preventive measures you should take for your pet’s safety.
Potential Health Risks
Mosquitoes may not live on cats and dogs like some parasites but they can be harmful to your pet nonetheless. Mosquitoes typically cause the most problems around sunrise, sunset, and at night.
It’s relatively rare to see active mosquitoes during the middle of the day as the sunlight quickly dehydrates them. During the day, mosquitoes generally hide out in shady areas, such as under leaves and shrubbery, beneath yard clutter, and inside sheds.
While tiny, mosquitoes can pose a serious health hazard to your pet, especially if your cat or dog spends a lot of time outdoors. Some of the most common health problems that can develop due to mosquito bites include:
- Heartworms – A single bite from an infected mosquito can lead to the development of heartworms in your pet. Upon contact with your pet, the heartworm larvae can enter the bloodstream where it will gradually cause damage to the lungs, heart, and blood vessels. An adult heartworm can live inside your pet for up to seven years. Animals suffering from heartworm disease may exhibit a loss of interest in physical activities, fatigue, loss of appetite, a swollen belly, and weight loss.
- West Nile Virus – West Nile virus (WNV) is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the U.S. While WNV tends to have a bigger impact on people than it does on pets, it can still cause mild symptoms in animals. Pets exposed to the West Nile virus through mosquito bites may become lethargic and develop a fever. In more serious cases, your pet may display a lack of coordination, muscle spasms or weakness, or mild seizures. With appropriate treatment, most dogs will recover from this condition.
- Encephalitis – Encephalitis is a term used to describe inflammation of the brain, typically caused by an infection or autoimmune response. This inflammation can cause the brain to swell, resulting in symptoms like stiff neck, headache, sensitivity to light, seizures, and mental confusion. Encephalitis is a type of zoonotic disease that is spread by a mosquito after it has bitten an infected animal, often a bird.
- Skin Irritation – While not as serious as the prior conditions, mosquitoes can cause localized skin irritation in pets. Similar to when mosquitoes bite humans, the bites can cause redness and itchiness. In an attempt to stop the itching, your pet may excessively scratch, chew, or lick the mosquito bites. If this behavior continues, your pet’s skin can become irritated and hot spots and possibly a skin infection may develop.
Protecting Pets from Mosquitoes
With mosquito season upon us, it’s important to be extra cautious when it comes to the health of your pets. Eliminating exposure to the best of your ability can significantly reduce your pet’s likelihood of developing serious health problems from mosquito bites.
Start by getting rid of any stagnant water around your home. Water that collects in containers or on surfaces can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Even your pet’s water bowl can attract mosquitoes if it is not regularly cleaned. Do your best to prevent these insects from getting inside your home. Keep your doors and windows closed during peak mosquito hours or install door and window screens.
If you plan to use repellants on your pets, avoid products that are not intended for pets, such as DEET. These products contain certain ingredients that can cause neurological problems in pets, such as seizures, tremors, and even death. Instead, use pet-safe or natural bug repellents. Certain plants like lemongrass, catnip, lavender, mint, and rosemary emit a distinct odor that naturally keeps mosquitoes at bay. There are also pet-safe insect repellents on the market available in wipe, spray, and lotion forms.
Heartworms must be eliminated before they reach their adult stage. It is essential for pets to adhere to a strict schedule of heartworm preventives to kill off potential heartworms before they have the chance to mature. Heartworm medications should be administered approximately every six months for oral and topical products and about every 12 months for injectable medications. If you haven’t already, ask your vet about heartworm prevention.
When walking your pet, you’ll also want to take certain precautions. Avoid walking your pet at dawn and dusk as these are peak mosquito hours. While outdoors, wear insect repellent and avoid walking near standing water where mosquitoes often lay their eggs.
When to Contact Your Vet
In the majority of cases, a bite from a mosquito is not a cause for concern. While the insect bite may cause some slight discomfort for your pet, symptoms are generally mild and will subside within a couple of days. If your pet is suffering from severe discomfort or exhibiting odd behavior, contact your vet and express your concerns.