VBDs represent a significant threat to the health and welfare of companion animals (i.e. dogs and cats), people and our shared environment. This combination creates a truly One Health issue – the interaction between animals, people and the environment.
VBDs are diseases that result from a bite from an infected, bloodsucking arthropod, such as mosquitoes, ticks and fleas.1 There are a number of these diseases, but those which commonly affect companion animals include the parasitic illness caused by heartworm, serious tick-borne infection, Lyme disease and Leishmania, a disease spread by sandflies.
It’s not just pets that can become infected; people are at risk of VBDs too. In one high profile human case, ex- England rugby player Matt Dawson contracted Lyme disease and subsequently had to undergo multiple heart operations and 18 months of treatment to eliminate the infection. It illustrates the physical damage caused by these diseases can be significant.
The VBD threat is growing
Researchers have found incidences of Leishmania, a potentially fatal infection in dogs, in northern European countries and North America – countries once thought free from the disease.2,3
This is associated directly with the rise in pets travelling across borders4, responsible for the establishment of reservoirs of Leishmania-infected dogs in these non-endemic areas. And this has also contributed to the widening geographical range of arthropod vectors, such as the establishment of the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) in northern Europe.5
These environmental changes highlight that VBDs are a One Health issue. Look at Lyme disease, for example, which is spread by wild ticks that can bite and feed on pet and owner in wooded areas.
So how can we prevent the transmission of VBDs to companion animals?
Using preventative treatments for our pets that repel the various parasites and stop them from feeding can be a very effective strategy.
Another approach that can potentially prevent infection with Lyme disease is to treat the animal with an acaricide, which will kill the tick before Lyme disease is transmitted. It also helps to avoid walking in areas where incidence of Lyme disease is high.
When we recognise VBDs as a One Health issue, it may help to reduce the impact of these diseases on the health and welfare of our pets.
2 Shaw SE, Binns SH, Birtles RJ, Day MJ, Smithson R, Kenny MJ. Molecular evidence of tick-transmitted infections in dogs and cats in the United Kingdom. Vet Rec. 2005;157:646–648.
3 Gaskin AA, Schantz P, Jackson J, Birkenheuer A, Tomlinson L, Gramiccia M, Levy M, Steurer F, Kollmar E, Hegarty BC, Ahn A, Breitschwerdt EB. Visceral leishmaniasis in a New York foxhound kennel. J Vet Intern
4 Shaw SE, Langton DA, Hillman TJ. Canine leishmaniosis in the United Kingdom: a zoonotic disease waiting for a vector? Vet Parasitol. 2009;163:281–285. doi: 10.1016/j.vetpar.2009.03.025.
5 Day, MJ. One health: the importance of companion animal vector-borne diseases. Parasites and Vectors 2011; 4: 49.