Mosquito and Tick-Borne Disease Testing:   Why Is It So Important?

Mosquito and Tick-Borne Disease Testing: Why Is It So Important?

     Early detection and treatment of mosquito and tick-borne diseases in cats and dogs is crucial for your pets’ overall health and longevity.  Tick and mosquito-borne illnesses can be serious and sometimes even fatal for your pet. Testing allows for early detection of these diseases, which can lead to prompt treatment and a better chance of recovery.  In the majority of cases, early intervention can make a significant difference in the outcome of the disease.

Early detection of mosquito and tick-borne illnesses can also prevent long-term health issues.  Some tick and mosquito-borne illnesses can lead to chronic health issues in pets if left untreated. Testing allows for early intervention to prevent these long-term health issues.

Testing pets annually or biannually for tick and mosquito-borne illnesses is not only vital for their health, but it also helps to keep us safe!   Humans can contract Ehrlichia, Anaplasma, and Lyme, so testing pets helps to monitor the prevalence of these diseases in our area.  This information can be used to implement regionally targeted prevention and control measures.

Testing for mosquito and tick-borne diseases in cats and dogs is done by taking a blood sample.  Holistic Veterinary Options uses the 4DX Plus test which screens for Heartworm as well as three tick-borne diseases:  Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, and Lyme.  The test is inexpensive, and can be run inhouse in less than 30 minutes.

To completely understand the importance of testing, it can be helpful to learn more about the serious and often devastating consequences of these mosquito and tick-borne illnesses.


Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm, Dirofilaria immitis.  This parasite can cause lung disease, heart failure, and organ damage in dogs and cats.  Heartworm presents differently in dogs and cats, but it can be fatal in both species. 

Mature female heartworms in an infected animal produce babies called microfilaria. These immature heartworms live in the infected animal’s bloodstream until they are picked up by a feeding mosquito. Carrier mosquitoes deposit these larvae onto the surface of a pet's skin. These larvae work their way into the new host’s bloodstream and mature over a period of about six months. At this point, they can be detected on a blood test.

Once the larvae mature, they can cause damage in their host for many years. Animals can be asymptomatic or have subclinical symptoms for months or even years after infection. Treatment is more successful when the disease is caught early before significant damage to the host has occurred. This makes testing regularly all the more important.

While Heartworm is a serious disease, its prevalence is currently limited in Dane County with a 0.40% infection rate. It is likely that vigilant testing, preventatives, and our colder climate contribute to this low number.

Some of our clients choose to forgo preventative care for Heartworm disease due to their concerns of potential side effects. Unfortunately, there currently is not an effective, holistic Heartworm preventative on the market.

If you choose to not use a Heartworm preventative for your dog or cat, we strongly encourage biannual testing to ensure that we can catch and treat heartworm disease before it causes lasting damage.


Anplasmosis is a tick-borne disease caused by the bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum. It is carried by deer ticks, which are endemic to Wisconsin. A positive result for Anaplasma on a 4Dx test indicates that the pet was exposed and has developed antibodies. Further blood testing would be necessary to confirm if there is an active infection.

While many dogs who test positive do not show symptoms and may not need treatment, Anaplamosis can cause lethargy, high fever, loss of appetite, dehydration and joint pain. Dogs and cats who contract Anaplamosis have a good prognosis with early detection and appropriate treatment. Anaplasmosis is very prevalent in Wisconsin with an infection rate of over 20% and rising.  This makes it essential that we test your dog or cat at least annually for this common tick-borne illness. 



Ehrlichiosis is most commonly caused by the bacteria, Ehrlichia canis and is transmitted by deer ticks and lone star ticks, which have recently become endemic to Wisconsin and the greater Midwest. Ehrlichia is moderately prevalent in Wisconsin with a disease incidence of 1.40% in the state and 2.04% in Dane county.

Ehrlichia commonly remains subclinical, meaning the organism causes damage without showing obvious signs. Clinical Ehrlichia can present as a high fever, respiratory distress, weight loss, swollen limbs, bleeding or neurologic symptoms.

Similar to Anaplasma, a positive result for Ehrlichia means that additional testing is necessary to distinguish between an active infection and simple exposure. We also recommend urine testing to determine if the disease has caused any damage to the kidneys. A several week-long course of antibiotics is prescribed to treat active infections.  Testing and early detection is important because the prognosis is improved if this illness is caught early.



Most people are familiar with Lyme disease, but many may not know how it presents in pets and why it is so important to screen for Lyme disease regularly.

Lyme is highly endemic to Wisconsin with an incidence rate of 11.88%. Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by deer ticks.

Like the other tick-borne diseases, the symptoms of Lyme disease are highly variable and often remain subclinical for many months after exposure. Lyme causes many of the same symptoms as Ehrlichia and Anaplasma including joint swelling, lameness, fatigue, loss of appetite, and kidney disease.

We recommend additional blood testing and a urinalysis if your dog or cat tests positive for Lyme to ensure that their internal organs are functioning well. A blood test called the Lyme Quant C6 is typically performed after a positive Lyme test to measure your dog or cat's level of antibodies. This can help us determine if an active infection is present which would indicate a need for treatment. After treatment, we would measure the antibodies again to ensure that they have dropped and there is no longer an active infection.

Testing your dog or cat for tick and mosquito-borne illnesses is a crucial part of your pet’s overall health and wellness care. Annual or biannual testing for tick and mosquito-borne illnesses is quick, inexpensive, and will give you peace of mind!  Knowing that your dog or cat is free of these diseases can alleviate concerns and help you take appropriate precautions. 


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