Keeping up with regular flea, tick, and heartworm prevention can go a long way in protecting your pet’s health! However, it can be difficult to remember every month. It might help to know a little bit more about the benefits of these treatments, how to use them most effectively, and how to establish the routine that will work best for your schedule and budget.
Below, we outline some of the main parasites and infections along with how to prevent and/or treat them. There are many different products on the market, but your vet can help you sort through them to find the best option for your family.
Fleas are pervasive in the environment, fluctuating with the seasons and by geographic area. In areas with cold winters, using flea preventatives might be sufficient during the warmest 6 months of the year. In warmer areas, however, (like Los Angeles) flea prevention is most effective if continued year-round.
Dogs and cats become infected with fleas when they go outside, but they can also bring fleas into the house with them. Therefore, it is important to protect your outdoor animals as well as your indoor animals and to treat both the indoor and outdoor environments in the case of an infestation. If you believe you have a flea infestation, consult your vet and/or an extermination professional about how to safely eliminate them.
To check if your pet has fleas, comb through their hair with a flea comb or a very fine hair comb. You might see fleas, eggs, or dark specks of “flea dirt” (flea excrement). Comb these out of the fur and dunk the comb in soapy water to kill the fleas. Fleas like to hang out around the face and the tail, so you can part the fur in these areas to check for them. Other symptoms that your pet has fleas include scratching, excessive licking, biting or chewing, and head shaking. These symptoms can progress to hair loss and “hot spots,” which might be an indication that your pet has an allergy to fleas that will require further treatment by your veterinarian.
Fleas can leave eggs around your house, in bedding and carpets, and under your furniture. Frequently vacuuming your home and washing your animal’s bedding in hot water can aid in prevention. Make sure not to bathe your dog for a few days after a topical treatment to avoid washing it off.
Prevention and Treatment: Flea treatments come in different forms. Topical treatments can be applied monthly on the skin between the shoulder blades by parting the fur. Oral pills are also available by prescription. Alternatives include sprays, flea collars, dips or rinses, and shampoos. Some treatments that are made for dogs can be toxic to cats, so make sure to read the labels carefully and use a product appropriate for your pet’s age, weight, and species.
Ticks feed on an animal’s blood and can transmit a variety of diseases in their host. Some of the more common tick-borne illnesses include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, and Bartonella (“cat scratch fever”), among others.
There are many different kinds of ticks and diseases that they carry, varying by region and climate. In general, ticks like warm climates and are more prevalent in the warmer months of the year. It is always a good idea to check your pet for ticks after they spend time in an area where ticks are prevalent, such as heavily wooded areas or tall grasses. Removing ticks within the first 24 hours can help reduce the risk of disease transmission.
How to remove ticks:
Some people do not want to touch ticks, in which case you can always bring your pet to the vet to have them removed. However, if you’d like to give it a shot at home, here are some tips:
- Use narrow tweezers to slowly pull the tick out by the head, trying not to leave any mouthparts behind.
- Kill the tick by submerging it in rubbing alcohol, bleach, or vinegar, or simply cover the tick completely with clear tape. You might want to keep the tick to have it identified in the event that your pet gets sick.
- Wash the site with soapy water and then wash your hands.
- Monitor the area for signs of infection (redness, swelling, heat, or pain) and call your vet if you are concerned.
- If you notice any of the symptoms below over the next several months, bring your pet to your veterinarian.
Signs and symptoms of tick-borne illness include:
- Lethargy or depression
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Jaundice (yellow skin or yellowish tinge to the whites of the eyes)
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Anemia or pale gums
- Limping, stiffness, or arthritis
- Skin rashes, bruising, or clusters of small spots of blood under the skin
Of course, finding ticks on your dog is itself an indication that they could be at risk. The best way to find out if your pet has a tick-borne illness is to get a blood test performed in conjunction with a physical exam by your veterinarian. If left untreated, chronic disease can cause serious complications.
All of this goes for you and your human family members too! Most of the diseases our dogs can get from ticks are diseases humans can get as well. If you and your dog go for a hike in the woods, or if you cuddle up with your pets after they’ve been outside in an area where ticks are prevalent, do a quick scan to make sure no ticks have crawled onto you. Ticks especially like the armpit area, the groin, and behind the ears.
Prevention and Treatment: Many of the treatments for fleas can also treat or prevent ticks, though not all of them. For example, Frontline Plus treats ticks, while Advantage II does not. If your pet tests positive for a tick-borne illness, treatments might include antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and anti-parasitic medications.
Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite in the blood of mosquitos. When the mosquito feeds on your pet’s blood, it deposits larvae called microfilariae into the bloodstream. These larvae develop into the larger worms that lodge in your pet’s heart and blood vessels.
Heartworm disease is a heartbreaking experience to go through with our pets and can be very damaging and fatal. Symptoms include a persistent cough, weight loss and loss of appetite, vomiting, and fatigue after even mild exertion. Heartworm disease, if untreated, can progress to heart failure and eventually death.
The prevalence of heartworm varies by geographic region and increases during the hotter months, but cases have been noted throughout the U.S. The American Heartworm Society recommends continuing heartworm treatment year-round, even during colder months. If you miss more than one or two doses, your pet could become infected. It is a good idea at that point to get your pet tested for Heartworm and then continue your monthly preventative. Conveniently, most heartworm prevention medications also treat other internal parasites like roundworm, hookworm, and whipworm, so your pet will be protected for these as well!
Prevention and Treatment: There are treatments available for heartworm infection in dogs, though difficult and costly. However, there are currently no safe or effective therapies available for treating cats. While heartworm disease can be devastating for your pet, heartworms are easily preventable by keeping up with monthly preventatives such as Heartguard Plus.
MAKING A PLAN
In all of these cases, the best treatment is always prevention! Prevention of the parasites is much easier and more affordable than treating the diseases. Work with your vet to determine what combination of treatments will work best for your pet. If looking for low cost alternatives, just check with your vet to make sure that these products will be effective, and use all products as directed.
It can be a lot to remember to do this every month, so consider setting a reminder for yourself on your phone or calendar, and always write down what day you’ve given the treatments. Then congratulate yourself for taking excellent care of your pet! And remember, if you ever need us, we’re only ever a phone call away at (310) 517-1832!