4 Vector-Borne Disease Trends Veterinarians Need to Know in 2024

As we thaw from winter and approach peak mosquito and tick season across most of the country, it's crucial for primary care veterinarians to stay informed about recent and upcoming trends in vector-borne diseases (VBDs) in pet dogs and cats. One of the most important practices is conducting an annual comprehensive VBD screening. This not only ensures the health of our furry friends and keeps our clients happy, but also contributes to the broader understanding of these diseases.

Here are a few current and up-and-coming trends to be aware of when it comes to vector-borne diseases in cats and dogs.

Geographic Distribution

The prevalence of vector-borne diseases varies by region, but endemic areas for certain vectors and vector-borne diseases can shift over time. Changes in land use, deforestation, and increased human and animal movement—including both migration patterns of wildlife and dog and cat travel and adoptions across state lines—can influence the distribution of vector-borne diseases previously confined to particular regions.

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Climate change also has significant effects on the migration of ticks and the activity of fleas and mosquitoes. While ticks are found in virtually all parts of the U.S., including some urban areas, different species are common in different areas. However, veterinarians may see shifts in the geographic range of certain tick-borne diseases, and veterinarians in regions where historically comprehensive VBD screenings weren't necessary should now consider them. CAPC produces forecasts for the regional prevalence of tick-borne diseases and heartworm, and these maps can highlight changes over time in your area. But the only way to know what's common amongst your specific patient population is by testing regularly.

More Diagnostic Advancements

Additional advances in diagnostic testing technology can lead to increased detection for new organisms or ones difficult to detect with antibodies. Even now, next-generation sequencing (NGS) is being explored to improve the accuracy and ease of diagnosing vector-borne infections in dogs across multiple vector-borne diseases. In the future, high-throughput technologies such as whole-genome sequencing, omics approaches (metagenomics and metaproteomics), and advanced cage-side molecular diagnostics like loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) are likely to radically change the speed and accuracy with which vector-borne diseases are diagnosed and how treatment is monitored.

Global Collaboration

Given the global nature of many vector-borne diseases, veterinarians should expect increased collaboration between veterinary professionals, researchers, and public health organizations worldwide to enhance surveillance efforts and share data on emerging diseases. One example of how human research can inform disease risk in dogs is in Lyme disease, where dogs and owners share environmental risk factors. The School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins tracks Lyme and other tick-borne diseases using a model that relies on input from human doctors, veterinarians, and researchers alike.

Increased Awareness Among Pet Owners

With increasing reports of VBD in humans in the media, it's likely that there will be increased awareness among pet owners about the risks of these diseases in their pets as well. Ideally, this will translate into heightened awareness of the importance of preventive measures. Veterinarians may start to see a growing emphasis on flea and tick preventatives, and clients eager to learn more about traditional and alternative methods of vector control. Education to promote responsible vector control and prevention practices for your clientele is key.

Staying informed and up to date on these trends for your clients can help you look to the future, and regular screening for vector-borne disease every year with every patient can make a big difference. By doing so, we can ensure the health and well-being of our pets, and contribute to the broader understanding and control of vector-borne diseases nationwide.

Erin Lashnits

Dr. Lashnits is a clinical assistant professor in small-animal internal medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. She received her MS in biology from Stanford University, DVM from Cornell University, and PhD in comparative biomedical sciences from North Carolina State University. She spent a few years in general practice and emergency medicine before completing her internal medicine residency at NC State University. Dr. Lashnits’s current research focuses on the epidemiology of zoonotic vector-borne diseases and other infectious diseases affecting underserved veterinary populations in a One Health context. The views and opinions in this piece are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of either The Vetiverse or IDEXX.

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