Let’s Talk Parasites

It’s Springtime and a good time to talk about harmful parasites. In this issue we discuss fleas, ticks and heartworm.

Fleas – More Than a Pest

Fleas are small insects that feed off the blood of a host. Fleas can infest dogs and cats but also wild animals such as raccoons, opossums, and coyotes. They have long legs and the back legs are perfect for jumping. It has been documented that a flea can jump both horizontally and vertically – as high as 7 inches and as long as 13 inches! Some fleas that infest wild animals can carry diseases. Fleas can also bite humans.

How can I tell if my pet is at risk?

  • Your pets are at risk for fleas even if the only outdoor time spent is to go to the bathroom.
  • Pets that go outside can bring fleas inside to the indoor pets.
  • Fleas can jump on a person outside and be transferred to pets that are only indoor.
  • Visiting pets can bring fleas with them.
  • Moving into a new house that previously had fleas can result in a flea problem for your pet.
  • Contact with other pets:
    For Dogs – at the dog park, pet store, on a walk, at a friend’s house For Cats – meeting other cats in the neighborhood, visiting a relative

A flea bite leaves a bite similar to that of mosquitoes that can be itchy. Some pets react to this much more severely than others. This can cause skin irritations and hair loss. Too many fleas on a young pet can result in anemia and even death. Tapeworms are carried by fleas and can be passed to your dog or cat when the pet swallows a flea while biting and chewing at itself because of the itchiness or while grooming. Tapeworm segments can be seen on the fur near the rectum and appear as small, white, flat pieces of rice. Occasionally these segments are seen passed in the stool.

Fleas have 4 life stages – egg, pupa, larva and adult. The adults are the tiny little brown moving specks we see on our pets. An adult female can lay 5000 eggs or more in her lifetime. Fleas feed on the host and then jump off into the environment. Eggs are laid on the host and fall off into the carpet or bedding. We know that action needs to be taken to protect our pets and keep infestations out of our houses when we realize that a few fleas on our pet can mean a lot more of them in our environment. Once a flea problem gets started in the home it can take several months to eliminate it.

An early start to flea prevention is the key to keeping a problem from starting on your pet and in your home. We recommend using flea prevention all year round to keep pets protected in the winter months from fleas that may have gotten into the home in the warmer weather.

Ticks – The Ambush Expert

Let’s face it – ticks are scary! Unlike fleas that bite and jump off, ticks climb aboard and attach themselves for awhile. They hide on shrubs and grass and other plants waiting for a potential host to come along. Ticks cannot fly or jump – they crawl. When an unsuspecting host brushes past they quickly crawl on the hair and make their way to the skin.

Ticks feed on blood and attach themselves while feeding. Ticks like larger animals such as dogs, cattle and humans. You won’t see many ticks on a cat because they are constantly grooming themselves.

Ticks can become active in temperatures above 45 degrees – so you might even see them in winter. Female ticks can lay several thousand eggs. It is possible for an adult tick to live up to 2 years without feeding! Ticks can carry diseases (Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, and others), which make them even more scary. These diseases can be transmitted to humans.

The most common ticks we come in contact with are the American Dog Tick, Lone Star Tick, Deer Tick and Brown Dog Tick.

American Dog Tick
will bite humans; found mostly on trails, paths and recreational areas (parks, etc.)

Lone Star Tick
will bite humans; found mostly in wooded areas and by creeks and rivers

Deer Tick (also called Blacklegged Tick)
will bite humans; found mostly in wooded areas by trails; can transmit Lyme disease and Ehrlichia disease to dogs and humans

Brown Dog Tick
rarely bites people – mostly bites dogs.
Can develop indoors; found mostly in kennels or homes

Early prevention is the key to protecting your pets. We recommend using flea and tick products year round to protect your pet during all seasons.

Heartworm Disease – The Hidden Menace

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease caused by parasites in the bloodstream and heart. Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes. The mosquito bites an infected animal and then will bite another, transmitting the heartworm larva to the new host. These larva then migrate to the blood vessels and the heart and become adults. The adults have babies, called microfilaria, which circulate through the bloodstream and organs and eventually become adults themselves that live in the heart, lungs and nearby blood vessels. This process takes about 6 months. Adults in the heart can clog arteries and blood vessels. The microfilaria can cause damage to other organs while circulating in the bloodstream. Dogs are the more common host for heartworms but heartworms can infect both dogs and cats.

Pets that have become infected recently may show no symptoms. Symptoms in dogs include coughing, not wanting to eat as much, weight loss, inability to do much exercise, and poor hair coat. Heartworm testing for dogs is done with a blood test. This test is performed once a year, usually at the time your pet comes in to get vaccines. The test we use also checks for tick borne diseases (Lyme, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis). Diagnosis can also include x-rays and ultrasound. Dogs that have been treated are still at risk for problems after treatment because dying parasites can clog blood vessels to heart and lungs.

Heartworm disease in cats is less common than in dogs. Cats that are only indoors are still at risk since mosquitoes do get into the house. Symptoms of heartworm disease in cats can appear as symptoms to other diseases making diagnosis more difficult. They may show no symptoms at all and suddenly become very ill. There is no treatment for heartworm disease in cats yet.

Prevention of this problem is the best way to keep your pet from becoming infected. We recommend year round heartworm prevention (given monthly) as it also helps provide protection against intestinal parasites. Ask us today about heartworm prevention for your dog or cat. We have topical prevention for cats that also protects against fleas, ear mites and intestinal parasites.

Start protecting your pets today! Call us for information and special offers on heartworm products!

Ask us how we can help you protect your pet against fleas and ticks! Ask about product specials!