After working in veterinary medicine for more than 30 years in New England, I was well versed on the veterinary conditions pets in our area are exposed to. But what happens when you take your pet on a boat abroad? Many diseases are region-specific, and our pets may not be immune to them.
When my husband and I started our cruising life, the other cruisers we met inevitably asked me lots of questions about their cuddly traveling companions. One day, for instance, I received a text from the crew of a Canadian boat in Georgia asking what type of spiders could be crawling all over their two Alaskan Malamutes after a hike ashore. Eventually, I figured out they were describing deer ticks, something not found in Canada. We then discussed the dangers of Lyme disease for both dogs and humans, and how to prevent further exposure.
This is just one example of how different regions can expose our furry friends to diseases and conditions we’re not familiar with. What follows are some potential health issues that may arise as you cruise the United States and the Caribbean. Hopefully, before you set sail, you will have a chance to discuss them with your veterinarian.
• Heartworm – All dogs and most cats should be on monthly heartworm prevention medication. Heartworm is passed from pet to pet by mosquitoes. You don’t usually see mosquitoes in the North in the winter, but as you travel south and start putting in bug screens in the hatches, it’s a good idea to think of your pet as well. Heartworm can be deadly, and there is a large untreated population of affected animals in the South and the Caribbean.
• Intestinal parasite control – Most heartworm prevention medications include a dose of deworming medication. In the Southeast, for example, hookworms are a major problem that is rarely seen in colder climates.
• Fleas and ticks – All dogs and cats should be treated for fleas and ticks. Typically this is done on a monthly basis. In New England beware of deer ticks and Lyme disease.
• Rabies – All states and countries require a current rabies vaccine with appropriate written documentation before they will allow your pet ashore. A rabies vaccine is important even for a cat that never leaves the cabin. Bats carry rabies and have been known to fly into boat cabins, and a cat loves to hunt!
• Vaccines (general) – There are numerous vaccines to help boost your pet’s immunity against any viruses they may be exposed to. However, most veterinarians will make individual judgment calls about what to vaccinate against based on the environment your pet will be in. Talk with your veterinarian about what cruising destinations you have in mind.
• Boarding - What if you need to board your pet ashore in an emergency? Can you do so immediately, or will your pet be turned away because it is not vaccinated for a highly contagious disease like kennel cough? Recommended vaccines to discuss with your veterinarian include Influenza, Lyme Disease, Bordetella and Leptospirosis.
Pets aboard can be a lot of fun, but they can also destroy your boat’s budget if they become ill. Prevention is much more budget-friendly than treatment for most medical conditions. Plan wisely.