Spring is here! The weather is nice and the animals and bugs are out in full force. This warm weather typically inspires us to be more active – taking our pets for longer walks in the sunshine, boarding facilities, or on the lake or beach. With all of this activity, we tend to see more exposure to mosquitoes, fleas, ticks and even intestinal parasites. In Charlotte, North Carolina, we see fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes nearly year round due to our mild temperatures. Is your pet protected? In this blog post, we will discuss some of the most common “creepy crawlies” we see that can infect your pet – and how to prevent them from getting infected.
The warmth and humidity in our climate, combined with very mild winters, is perfect for mosquito larvae. While mosquitoes can cause bites on all species and can harbor diseases, the most common disease we see in cats and dogs from mosquito bites is heartworm disease. Heartworms are spread through the bite of an infected mosquito to your dog or cat – this can allow tiny worms to colonize in your pet’s bloodstream, leading to damage to the heart and lungs. Heartworm disease can be fatal if severe and can be very expensive and painful to treat. The best method of treatment is prevention. By keeping your pet on year round heartworm prevention, you can prevent illness and help keep them safe and healthy. Even if your pet is on monthly heartworm prevention regularly, we recommend annual or sometimes semi-annual heartworm testing if a dose was skipped to ensure the prevention is working and they are healthy.
Fleas are external parasites that love to tag along and colonize on your pet. If a single flea hitches a ride, it can lay eggs on your dog or cat and slowly create a flea army. This army can cause itchiness, discomfort and lead to an increased risk of skin infections on your pet. When a flea bites your pet, taking a blood meal. If enough fleas infest your pet, they can cause anemia. Wherever your pet goes, the fleas go, laying eggs in the environment that will hatch in a few weeks and restart the process. Without flea prevention and environmental management, fleas can be quite a nuisance and can lead to a severe infestation that can be difficult to control.
If your pet ingests fleas, they can also develop tapeworms which can lead to weight loss, GI upset, and other symptoms.
Ticks are another type of external parasite that can be dangerous for your pet. Ticks can hitch a ride on your pet from wooded areas or even just in the neighborhood. Once a tick bites and attaches, it begins harvesting blood and swells as it fills over time. During its attachment, an infected tick can transmit diseases such as Lyme, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. These diseases can be chronic and even life threatening if contracted. By keeping your pet on regular tick prevention, these diseases can be prevented.
Intestinal Parasites (worms)
Did you know your pet can get worms that live inside their body? These worms can be picked up from your pet’s environment and can cause GI symptoms including weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting or a distended abdomen. There are several types of worms, the most common being hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, and tapeworms. Hookworms and roundworms can be transmitted to puppies from their mother, as well as picked up from infected feces in the environment. Whipworms can be picked up from the environment and in high loads, can mimic severe diseases. Tapeworms are developed from ingesting fleas and can not be transmitted from pet to pet. To test for parasites, your veterinarian will check a fecal sample annually to look for worm eggs. Most regular heartworm prevention contains dewormer, so by keeping your pet up to date on year round prevention and by disposing of your pet’s stool immediately to prevent parasites from transmitting into the environment. Certain types of intestinal parasites such as hookworms can also be transmitted to people, causing skin irritation or rarely, blindness. It is not recommended to walk barefoot where dog feces has been present to avoid exposure.
Some organisms that can also cause gastrointestinal diseases are coccidia and giardia. These are protozoal organisms that are transmitted through environmental transmission with infected feces, typically through soil or water sources. These organisms can cause bloody diarrhea, cramps, vomiting. These diseases can also cause symptoms in humans, but the transmission possibility from dogs to humans is small.
In summary, it is important to ensure your pet is protected against fleas, ticks and intestinal parasites to keep them healthy and reduce risk of severe diseases. By ensuring your pet is using regular heartworm, flea and tick, and intestinal parasite prevention, these diseases can be greatly prevented. If you have concerns about your pet being exposed to heartworms, fleas, ticks or intestinal parasites, please contact your veterinarian.