Bloodsucking Parasites

May 29, 2022Blog Posting

dog scratching its ear, Bloodsucking parasites

Many pet owners have been counting down to summer. The days are long, the birds are singing, and the skies are sunny. Warm weather is something to celebrate. Some risks arrive with warmer weather. While you enjoy being outside, the parasites are soaking up the warm weather as well. Two prevalent bloodsucking parasites in our area are ticks and mosquitoes. It’s essential to educate yourself on these parasites, the health complications they can cause, and how to prevent them. Our comprehensive care plans will ease your mind and keep your pet healthy.

The Tick

Ticks are frequently found near dense vegetation like tall grass or wooded areas. Ticks use their senses to identify and attach to the host. They wait for a vibration, smell, or feeling of warmth and reach out to attach to the host. Ticks, once hatched, require blood to survive in every life cycle.

In Central Illinois, we commonly diagnose canines with Lyme disease. Ticks transmit the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria to the host while feeding. Some patients are diagnosed with Lyme through incidental findings. Others are diagnosed when they develop fever, lameness, or lethargy symptoms.

Advanced Lyme Disease can be severe, causing kidney failure. The most common treatment for Lyme disease is a course of antibiotics. We recommend vaccinating your pet against Lyme Disease if you live in a high-risk area or if your pet has been treated for the disease in the past.

Prevention is the best medicine. High-risk dogs and dogs a veterinarian has treated for Lyme Disease in the past should be vaccinated annually. All pets should use tick prevention. We carry chewable preventatives at our clinic, Credelio, and Bravecto. Click the links to find out more about the products.

The Mosquito

The mosquito is commonly found in central Illinois. The warmer temperatures and stagnant water provide the perfect breeding ground. In addition to being pesky, the mosquito can transmit heartworm larvae, causing a severe health issue for your canine friend. On average, each veterinary clinic in Illinois treats 1-5 heartworm cases per year.

The heartworm needs a canine host to complete its life cycle. When a mosquito bites an infected host, they pick up the heartworm microfilariae (or larvae). When the mosquito bites the next pet, they transmit the microfilariae. Once inside the host, they migrate through the tissue into the bloodstream. The heartworm larvae mature and produce microfilariae in about six months.

Heartworm disease is fatal for infected patients. Even after treatment, there are residual heart and lung problems seen in patients. Almost all of our patients are diagnosed with heartworm disease through our recommended annual screening and are not yet symptomatic. Symptomatic patients can exhibit a persistent cough, decreased activity, and appetite. Patients with severe heartworm infection can display a fluid-filled abdomen as well.

A Common Misconception about Indoor Pets

One of the most common misconceptions we hear at Wags and Whiskers is that “inside dogs are not at risk.” On the contrary, the mosquito population is relatively high in urban areas. Considering that most towns in Illinois are built around bodies of water, it is natural to expect an even higher mosquito population. The mosquito is a tiny insect and often slips into homes. It takes just one bite for a mosquito to transmit the heartworm larvae. For further reading on heartworm infection, please visit the

As with Lyme Disease, prevention is the best medicine. Dogs, once weaned, can start heartworm prevention. The heartworm preventative we sell at our clinic is a chewable once-a-month preventative called Interceptor Plus. Read more about Interceptor Plus here: It is very affordable – less than $0.50 per day to protect your dog. We recommend all canines are tested for heartworm disease at their annual appointments. Before starting an adult dog on prevention, a heartworm test is necessary to determine if your pet is currently carrying heartworm microfilariae. The cost of the test is around $50.


Both tick-borne disease and heartworm disease can be deadly for your furry friend. As always, prevention is the best medicine. Annual vaccinations, health screenings, and preventative treatments keep your pet healthy. Here at Wags and Whiskers, we offer a comprehensive wellness plan to help owners budget for their pet’s best care. Please check out our plans and contact our office if you have any questions.

Dr. Janelle McFarland
Wags & Whiskers Veterinary Clinic


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