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This year’s weather pattern of rain and heat and then rain again has created the perfect environment for fleas, ticks and mosquitoes to rapidly multiply. The numbers of these pests is expected to escalate this summer well beyond prior years’ numbers. I have already had several clients tell me they are finding fleas in their yards this year when they have never seen them before. It is critical to act now and continue to routinely act to protect your pet, your home and your family from this sudden onslaught of varmints.
Flea control can be very challenging. For every flea you see on your pet, there are up to 100 in the environment, and each flea can produce up to 50 eggs daily. However, if you don’t see fleas, it doesn’t mean they are not there. This insect spends very little time on your cherished companion; most of its time is in the environment. If your pet is a good groomer, you may never see anything. Why is this a concern for you and your pet? In addition to the discomfort related to flea bites, fleas can transmit disease to your companions and to you. An infestation of fleas can lead to significant blood loss in small animals. And many patients are allergic to flea saliva, triggering a pattern of massive self-trauma to the skin long after a bite has taken place. In addition, when fleas are consumed by your pets they can transmit tapeworm.
There are multiple flea products available to provide protection for your buddy. The safest ones do not contain the chemical pyrethrin. This product is deadly to cats and can be toxic to dogs. I do not recommend using this agent at all, but be especially cautious if your canines have any contact with felines, as the cats can lick it off them. The best choice is a product that will not only kill fleas but also the eggs and larva. For canines, our clinic recommends Frontline Plus, a topical product that also protects against ticks, or Comfortis, an oral preventive that doesn’t protect against ticks. We also carry Trifexis, an oral product that protects against heartworm as well but is not proven effective for tick control. For felines, we recommend Frontline Plus or Advantage-multi, which also protects against heartworm.
If you are seeing a lot of fleas, perimeter control is important. The safest method is to have a professional company treat for insects around your home. Make sure they are aware that you have pets and follow their suggested guidelines for the safety of your cherished companions. There are also products that you can purchase at your local hardware store and pet store. Before purchasing or using anything, make sure that you are well aware of the potential hazards to your pets and take the necessary precautions. If an infestation is present, several treatments will be needed in addition to the monthly preventives for your companions. And remember that monthly preventives should be used year-round for your buddies. It doesn’t freeze in our area, so these pests are present all year long at varying numbers.
Ticks can spread disease to both animals and people, and they are present in our area. Ticks can be very difficult to find because they can be smaller than the tip of a pen. The most common locations for them to embed on your pet are the feet, armpits and neck. Ticks can survive in the environment for years. Frontline plus is the current recommendation for tick prevention at our clinic. For canine patients that have high tick exposure we also recommend an annual Lyme vaccination. The same guidelines for perimeter control listed above for fleas also apply to ticks.
Heartworm is a deadly disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes. Even indoor pets can be exposed to mosquitoes, and it only takes one bite by an infected mosquito to create a problem. The mosquito injects a larva into the pet’s blood stream. This larva matures and migrates to the right side of the heart; they can also migrate to the liver and lungs of your cherished companion. At these locations the adult worms reproduce. Each worm can survive five to seven years, and they grow up to 12 inches in length. Unfortunately, by the time your buddy shows symptoms of this illness, the disease process is already very advanced. Common symptoms include coughing, exhaustion, bloody mucus, fainting and weight loss. There is no treatment for heartworm disease in cats. For dogs, therapy involves the use of a form of arsenic, requires strict cage confinement of four weeks with each treatment, is expensive, and also poses its own health risks for your companion. The safest strategy for your canines and felines is to provide year-round monthly protection against heartworm. This is also an inexpensive way to protect your buddy and your family from many internal parasites such as roundworm, hookworm and whipworm. Our clinic recommends Heartgard or Trifexis for dogs, and Advantage-multi for cats. If your pet is younger than 6 months they can start on preventives without a blood test. For patients older than 6 months a blood test is required to make sure they do not already have heartworm. The product manufacturers recommend annual blood testing. These preventives are by prescription only, and various animal hospitals may have different testing requirements.
It is very important to provide monthly protection from fleas, ticks and heartworm for your cherished companions. Consistent monthly preventives are the safest and least expensive method to protect the health and comfort of your canines and felines. If your buddy is having health issues related to these pests, your veterinarian is an important resource for the care of your pets.
Julie Damron is a veterinarian at Sierra Veterinary Clinic in Stockton. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.