So now that the weather is getting a lot nicer, you want to go outside more, take long walks with your four-legged family members, and have all the outdoor barbecues you can have, right? But what are you going to do about all those pesky insects that try to suck, bite, and sting all the fun out of summer nights? Not only are they a nuisance for you, but they can be just as annoying, and potentially deadly for our pets, too! Read on to learn about some of the various harmful insects, and what you can to combat them and the diseases they can transfer.
Mosquitoes: Passing on Deadly Worms
Mosquito bites are no fun for us, but are even worse for our pets because of something called heartworms. Heartworms are spread through mosquitoes that carry infective larvae, and are a potentially fatal issue for dogs and cats. The heartworm larvae move from the site of the mosquito bite through a host’s body until they reach the heart and lungs. Once they are mature, adult heartworms can get to be 12 inches long, and will cause a significant decrease in blood flow throughout the body. Depending on the severity of the disease, it can possibly lead to death if not taken care of early on.
Heartworm preventatives such as Heartgard, Revolution, and Sentinel are very instrumental in helping before any bite occurs, but getting a heartworm test and treatment at your local AAHA Accredited Veterinary Hospital will absolutely help if your dog or cat already has heartworms. Signs of heartworm disease can include: mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss.” These symptoms won’t necessarily show early on in dogs, and in cats they can be very subtle, or very sudden.
Fleas & Ticks: All it Takes is One Bite
Fleas: These tiny brown bugs like to hide in cooler, shady areas like shrubs, trees, and under leaves. Despite not having wings, fleas can jump up to two feet high; so when your dog walks by, that’s when they will hop on, latch in, and start feeding on blood. The danger of fleas is that they can bring about tapeworms, skin infections, and other serious diseases. Combating fleas is as easy as using monthly preventatives such as Frontline or Nexgard, avoiding tall grassy/shady areas when walking, using a flea comb, and washing your pet’s bedding often.
Ticks: Ticks also like to hang out in shady, wooded areas, waiting for an unwary host to attach to. Once they are attached, ticks feed on blood (including you), which means they can directly transmit deadly diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, and babesiosis from just one bite! You can help deter tick bites by also using monthly preventatives, avoiding tall grassy/shady areas when walking, and whenever you are done with your walk make sure to check your dog (and yourself) for any little bumps because it might be a tick!
Bees & Wasps: More than a Sting!
Bee and wasps are a bit easier to avoid because they usually have visible nests and in general they’re the most noticeable bug. If you’ve got a curious pet then you should keep an eye out. Most stings tend to occur on the face or nose because that’s how our pets investigate. They may even get stung in the mouth or throat if they end up catching the bug; and those stings can be dangerous because the poison from the sting can cause the throat to swell. Other severe reactions to look out for include weakness, difficulty breathing and excessive swelling at the sting site. If you see any of these signs you need to go to your veterinarian ASAP. Most of these severe reactions occur with multiple stings, but always give your veterinarian a call and make sure to monitor the reaction to make sure it does not worsen. All cases will be different, so always consult your veterinarian before administering any medication or remedy, such as a weak water/baking soda mixture or an ice pack.
Tips to Decrease Insect Exposure
Ask your veterinarian about monthly Flea/Tick preventatives like oral doses, liquid, and collars.
Close screened windows/doors when inside so flying bugs don’t come inside.
Use bug repellent on yourself, and only pet-safe repellent on your furry friends.
Boarding Team Member
Social Media Coordinator
Tick-borne disease agents, intestinal parasites, heartworms . . . these hideous pests are just some of the parasites that can infect our pets, inflicting discomfort, pain, and possibly dangerous illness. Parasites are located nearly everywhere in the environment, so there are many different ways your pet can get infected. Something as simple as eating grass or licking paws after a walk outdoors poses a potential risk of your pet picking up a parasite. So what do you do? Prevention is key.
How Pets Get Infected
Dogs, cats, and other mammals can be exposed to parasites in various ways, starting at birth. These are just some of the most common sources of exposure:
- Puppies can be infected from their mother during pregnancy or nursing.
- Parasite eggs present in soil can get into our homes on the soles of our shoes.
- Potting soil purchased for indoor plants can host parasite eggs.
- Cats and dogs can contract parasites from ingesting rodents, fleas, or other insects.
Parasites such as the worms that infect dogs—including roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, and whipworms—live in the intestines, so that’s the first place your vet will look for them. They only shed eggs intermittently, so pets with parasites can have a “healthy” stool sample that doesn’t reveal any evidence of parasites. If left unchecked, parasites can stay undetected for a long time. It is crucial to test for parasites at least once a year and to give your pet a monthly heartworm preventive that also treats and controls intestinal parasites. Puppies and kittens should always be dewormed.
Symptoms of Infection
It is very important to know whether any of your pets may be carrying parasites. This is not only to avoid illness in your pet, but also to avoid transmission to family members. As carriers of zoonotic disease (disease that can be passed to humans from animals), parasites can cause serious problems in people, such as blindness—especially in children (roundworms), and migration under the skin (hookworms). Below are some of the symptoms to look out for in your pet:
- weight loss
Heartworms are a type of internal parasite that lives in the major blood vessels of the lungs. Their name comes from the fact that in severe cases they can migrate to the heart. Heartworms are transmitted to animals by mosquitoes, making heartworm disease endemic in this area (it is always present in our local environment due to our climate and wildlife). Dogs are especially at risk because they frequently encounter mosquitoes outdoors, but animals that stay inside (inside cats and dogs) can also be infected. As most of us know from our own experience, mosquitoes can easily get inside our homes. Currently, there is no feline heartworm treatment available, and treatment in dogs can be quite costly. Heartworms are fatal if not detected before they enter the advanced stages of the disease.
Treatment and Prevention
In the case of many kinds of worms, treatment is given orally (by mouth) or in a shot. Many of these drugs are considered “broad-spectrum” because they’re effective in treating a wide range of parasites, including worms that live in the gut. This is the case for many monthly heartworm preventatives, which contain medication that helps prevent the more common intestinal parasites. Keeping your environment free of dirt, feces, and vermin is another important step in prevention parasites from affecting you and you pets. Standing water outside your home (such as in a bird bath) can attract mosquitoes to come lay their eggs, so eliminating those sources is important.
All pets are at risk of exposure to internal parasites, but there are measures we can take to help protect them, and us. Contact your veterinarian to discuss an individualized parasite prevention program tailored to your own pet’s needs.
Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC): http://www.petsandparasites.org/about-capc/
CAPC brochure: http://www.petsandparasites.org/images/uploads/documents/CAPC_ParaBro_1.11_LR.pdf
Cesar Milan: http://www.cesarsway.com/Heartgard/Intestinal-Parasites
CAH Blog: Parasites: The Hidden Intruders
Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/animals.html
Contributed by Dr. Marsha Pollock, DVM
Most of our pets currently have, have had, or will have internal parasites at some point in their lives. A parasite is an organism that lives on or inside a host and gets its food from or at the expense of its host. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Don’t worry—your pet won’t die from internal parasites. In fact, most pets do not show any symptoms at all. But those parasites can affect you, so learn what the symptoms and causes are so you can protect yourself and your family from infection.
Unfortunately, clinical signs of parasites become evident only when they are present in large numbers. The most common signs of internal parasites are vomiting and diarrhea, and they may appear in pets that are otherwise normal. Puppies and kittens also may get a “pot belly” (enlarged abdomen) due to a large number of parasites.
Puppies, kittens, and stray animals are most at risk because parasites can be transmitted through a mother’s milk during nursing. Infection also occurs when an animal ingests the eggs or larvae (microscopic worms) in the feces of another animal, in a water source, or in the environment itself, such as grass or bare dirt in a dog park. This can happen various ways, such as licking paws after stepping in feces or dirt that is infected.
Most parasites have a favorite species and stick to it—dogs get dog parasites, cats get cat parasites—but sometimes parasites do not end up in the right host, like when a human gets a dog or cat parasite. These are called zoonotic parasites. The potential for contracting a parasite is very low in the United States, but it is a greater threat in third world countries. Below is a list of those and how they can be contracted.
Parasites Transmitted through Food
- Trichinella—by eating undercooked beef and pork
- Baylisascaris—by eating something that has come in contact with raccoon feces
Parasites You Can Get from Your Pet
- Giardia—from dogs and cats that ingest a contaminated water source
- Tapeworms—from ingesting a flea that is caring a tapeworm larva, the same way your dog or cat does
- Roundworms—from dogs and cats that ingest fecal material; a roundworm larva ingested by a human can migrate out of the intestinal tract and end up in any organ or the eyes, potentially causing major problems
- Toxoplasmosis—from infected cat fecal material, or infected dirt (after gardening do not eat until you have washed your hands)
IMPORTANT NOTE FOR PREGNANT WOMEN: This parasite can cause severe birth defects to your baby. If at all possible, do not clean the litter box. If you must do it yourself, wear rubber gloves and clean it daily because the eggs hatch and become infectious to humans 1-5 days after the cat has shed them.
- Hookworms—from ingested fecal material; once the eggs hatch outside a host, such as in the dirt, they can bury into the skin causing discomfort but not any disease (typically you notice a red squiggly line that goes away in 2-3 days)
- Cryptosporidium—by drinking from a contaminated water source (either human or pet)
Keep Your Family Safe from Parasites
- Make sure your pet is under a veterinarian’s care and gets a fecal test every 6 months (even your indoor cat)
- Practice the Four Ps: Pick up Pet Poop Promptly, and dispose of it properly. Be sure to wash your hands after handling pet waste.
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after touching animals, and avoid contact with animal feces
- Follow proper food-handling procedures to reduce the risk of transmission from contaminated food
- For people with weakened immune systems, be especially careful of contact with animals that could transmit these infections
Veterinary care for internal parasites includes testing and prescribing the correct medication to be given at home. Since parasites are living organisms, medications generally have to be given in two or more courses, each 2-3 weeks apart, to catch any parasites that hatched after the first course was given. Contact your veterinarian if you suspect a parasite infestation in your pet.
Puppy Photo: http://loudoun.nvcc.edu/vetonline/vet211/digest%20dx.htm
Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/
Contributed by Elisa Miller, LVT