What you need to know about Powassan virus and your pet
The arrival of warmer weather is a welcome relief for most people, but there is a downside for pet parents: spring and summer also bring an increased risk of flea and tick-borne diseases in our dogs and cats. In certain areas of the U.S. such as the Great Lakes and Northeast, cases of Lyme disease are escalating at alarming rates in both humans and animals.
Over the past 10 years a new tick-borne disease has been discovered. Seen thus far mainly in humans, Powassan is actually a virus rather than a species of bacteria as in the case of Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, and Ehrlichiosis. The Powassan virus, transmitted by ticks, is alarmingly different in that the disease can be transmitted within several minutes of tick attachment, rather than the 24 to 36 hours needed for most other tick-borne diseases. While there have only been approximately 50 cases documented over the past 10 years, symptoms of Powassan virus infection in people can be quite severe, resulting in severe brain inflammation, neurological signs, seizures and in 50 percent of the cases, permanent disability.
Fortunately, no documented clinical cases have been seen in dogs, cats or horses as of the writing of this article; however, under experimental conditions, infection or illness may be induced by injecting the virus intravenously or into the brain in experimental animals. In addition, there have been some species of wildlife, including chipmunks and squirrels, where clinical disease symptoms have been reported.
It is important to keep in mind that veterinary parasitologists are uncovering more and more tick-borne diseases in recent years, especially as advances in detection and more sensitive ways of diagnosing exposure to these diseases are being discovered. It is therefore important for animal guardians to remain vigilant in regards to these developments by scheduling regular vet visits and asking the right questions. While there is currently no known risk of pets contracting or showing signs of Powassan viral infection, these developments in parasitology make it even more important for animal guardians to protect pets from prolonged contact with ticks.
Therefore, during warmer, humid times of year, animal guardians should avoid areas of tall grass, woodlands, and dense marsh or brush areas. Additionally, susceptible pets in high tick exposure areas should be protected with any of the excellent tick prevention products available now.