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Nation sees increase in infectious pet diseases

By Katie Demeria

The rate of two infectious diseases in cats and dogs has increased throughout the nation since 2009, according to Banfield Pet Hospital's State of Pet Health 2014 Report.

The country has seen a 48 percent increase in feline immunodeficiency virus in cats and a 21 percent increase in the bacteria that causes lyme disease, the report stated.

FIV is similar to HIV in humans. It is not necessarily symptomatic, according to Dr. Bruce Coston of Seven Bends Veterinary Hospital in Woodstock. Rather, it makes the cat vulnerable to other infections.

Lyme disease is found most commonly in dogs, spreading through deer tick bites, Dr. Amy Bowman of Banfield Hospital said.

"Pretty much every doctor that works with Banfield in some capacity is somehow involved in the state of pet health report," Bowman said. "They go through the database that is created in all 850 of our hospitals across the nation."

Coston said his clinic deals with cases of both illnesses routinely -- and he has seen a significant increase in lyme disease in dogs in the area.

"It used to be uncommon for us to see cases of lyme disease, now it's quite common for us," Coston said. "Even in the teeth of the very coldest snap this winter, we have diagnosed clinical lyme disease in dogs."

Lyme disease is becoming more prevalent, Coston said, because demographics in ticks are changing. The tick population in the south is moving north, and the population in the north is moving south -- meeting in the valley.

The best ways to prevent lyme disease are through prevention tactics like regularly using tick and flea repellents. Coston suggested owners speak to their veterinarians to ensure they are using the best repellents on the market because some may no longer be as effective as others.

Vaccines are also available against lyme disease, which, with the increase in the disease's prevalence, Coston now recommends for dogs that are frequently outside in tall grasses.

The significant increase in cases of FIV throughout the nation, Bowman said, may be due to the fact that more owners are adopting cats from shelters and taking stray cats into their homes -- those are the populations most likely to develop FIV.

"The cats that are potentially living a lifestyle that is more prone to an infection are coming into our homes," Bowman said. "There is no information at this time that would indicate that the FIV virus itself is becoming more prevalent."

FIV is spread through blood and saliva, so outdoor, male cats that frequently fight over territory are more likely to contract it, according to Coston.

Bowman said the best way to fight FIV is through prevention.

"We're by no means telling people not to adopt cats from shelters," Bowman said. "They make great pets and great companions. But have your pets tested, see if, indeed, you are going to be dealing with that virus with the pet in its life."

If a cat is positive, it could still live six to seven years longer, Coston said, and would just need to be properly looked after as an indoor cat.

The No. 1 means of prevention, according to Bowman, is through education.

"If you know your cat is infected, you can take those steps to avoid your cat from infecting others," Bowman said.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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