As a kid growing up in Tucson, I was fascinated by tarantulas, gigantic paloverde beetles, and other insects and arachnids commonly encountered in our desert. I do not remember being plagued by clouds of mosquitoes during the evenings after the monsoons. Now I find our back porch swarming and I hear reports from others around town of increasing mosquito activity year after year.
Of course mosquito bites are a nuisance, causing itching on us and our four legged family members. In the veterinary field we see cases of mosquito bite hypersensitivity with severe skin lesions around the head and face, persistent itching to the point of self-trauma and secondary bacterial infections.
We have all heard the advice to prevent standing water and eliminate areas for mosquito breeding. With evaporative coolers, watering of potted plants and grass lawns, and rain water collection (intentional or not) we have created a very hospitable environment for these pests. Beyond the annoyance factor, we are also concerned about the risk of West Nile Virus, and Heartworm disease. These are serious diseases with potential life threatening implications. WNV has been reported in dogs but it seems like they are more resistant than humans and horses. Pima County Health department has a ton of information about WNV and mosquito prevention at this link.
The continued emergence of heartworm disease for our pets in Tucson is a significant concern. As Susan and I started practice in the late 1990’s we felt the prevalence of heartworm disease in Tucson was so low it was insignificant and the only patients we had on heartworm prevention were those who were moving or traveling to states in the Midwest or south east with much higher rates of the illness. Clearly the increase in the Tucson mosquito population, required by the heartworm to travel from host to host, is a factor. Pets relocating to Arizona from heartworm endemic areas may be a source for infection to our pets. Game and Fish reports a very high rate of heartworm positive coyotes in and around Arizona communities which may be the biggest threat to our pets.
I will post another blog about heartworm prevention and treatment, but reducing mosquitoes in our environment is the first step. While DEET products seem to be the most effective for people, I am not comfortable using them on cats or dogs. I have had good success using the Avon Skin So Soft products on pets, on technique is to dilute 2 oz in a gallon of water and spray all over. There is also some mosquito repellency in the topical permethrin products (Vectra, and K9 Advantix) but these are NOT SAFE for CATS.