Yay! Summer time is here! Time to head outside and enjoy the weather…and the bugs. We’ve talked about heat stroke already, but there are some other things you need to look out for as a responsible pet owner.
Keeping Your Pets Safe from Heart worm, Ticks and Fleas
So many bugs! Some of them are just an annoyance, but many summer time pests can make your pet extremely ill. All of a sudden the great outdoors doesn’t look so great any more. Here’s what you need to know to keep Fido and Mittens safe this summer.
What you need to know about Fleas
There’s nothing I hate more than fleas. Every time a pet comes in covered with fleas, I’m itchy for the rest of the day. I’d love nothing more than to never see another flea again! So, what’s the best way to get rid of them? I’m a big proponent of preventing them in the first place, rather than just treating your pet when you see fleas on them.
Those adult fleas are only about 5% of the total flea population in your house. The other 95% are flea eggs and larvae that are waiting to hatch and jump on your pet, or you!
The first thing I think of when I see an itchy pet is fleas. They’re small, but you can definitely see them easily with the naked eye (unless your naked eyes need glasses, in which case I guess they’re not naked any more). The easiest places to look on your pet are on the back of their neck, and on their rump right in front of their tail. You may need to part the hair to spot them, and those little monsters are fast, so you still might miss them.
If you cannot see the adult fleas themselves, you may see their droppings. In the biz we call it flea “dirt” because we’re classy like that, but it’s flea poo. It’ll look like dirt, or like someone has covered your pet in freshly ground black pepper. If you aren’t sure if it’s just regular old dirt or flea dirt, take a white tissue or paper towel, put some of the dirt on it and if it turns red it’s flea dirt. It is pretty much just digested blood. Which is gross and why I hate fleas.
Some animals will be incredibly itchy from just one or two flea bites, but there won’t be any strong evidence that fleas are there. In that case, I recommend treating for fleas just to be safe. If they don’t improve, then I know it must be something else.
Flea control is big business for the pharmaceutical companies, so they are always coming out with new products. Your vet is the best person to ask about what would be best for your pet. You can find collars, pills and topical skin treatments. Be really cautious about over-the-counter flea products because many of them just don’t work that well any more, but your vet can help guide you. Ideally, you want something that will take care of all stages of the flea lifecycle, and not just the adults.
Natural Flea Control
Many people want to use natural products to treat fleas. Unfortunately, most of those products don’t work at all. Garlic (which is poisonous if you give enough) and Brewer’s yeast are the most common old wives tales that people find on the internet but there is not a shred of evidence that they help. Citrus oils are a newer treatment option people have been trying, but I see fleas on lemony scented animals all the time. They should never be used on cats…they HATE being sprayed with lemon juice and the citrus essential oils can be extremely toxic to them.
One of the few natural treatments that works is a lawn treatment. There are certain types of worms that love eating flea larvae. You can find them at a lot of garden centres and they’re safe, natural way to keep the flea population down.
The final thing to remember, is to make sure that all the animals in your household are protected. Your cats may never go outside, but if your dog does he may bring the fleas home with him on his walk, and they’ll quite happily munch on the cats. Wildlife living in your walls, roof or chimney are another potential way to become infested.
What you need to know about Heart Worm
This is the big nasty. Heart worms are transmitted by mosquitoes, so the heart worm “season” really depends on where you live. In my neck of the woods, I only have to keep my dog on a heart worm preventive in the summer. An infected mosquito bites a dog and transmits the heart worm larvae into their bloodstream. Once the worm develops into an adult, it will live in the heart and the great blood vessels leading in and out of it, the lungs and other organs. Heart worm causes heart failure and can lead to death.
As with fleas, there are bunch of options for you to get. Pills, chews, injections and topical treatments are all available, and your vet can help you figure out the best option for you. Many of them are combined with flea control products to make life easier.
You may need to have a heart worm test done in the spring (a small blood test) before starting some of the products, but your vet let you know how frequently this needs to be done.
Dogs are the preferred host for heart worm, but it can be seen in cats as well. If you live in an area with a high risk of heart worm, you may need to have your cat on a preventive as well.
Heart worm is so annoying and expensive to treat, and so easy to prevent that I think it makes sense to have your pet on a preventive even if you don’t have a lot of heart worm in your area.
There are no natural products to prevent heart worm!
What you need to know about Ticks
I think ticks creep people out more than fleas do. Ticks are a lot easier to avoid than fleas or heart worm are. Although you can potentially pick them up anywhere, they tend to be in grassy or wooded areas with lots of wildlife. When your dog (or cat…or you!) walks by they hitch a ride and start to feed.
Ticks can be hard to see at first, but once they start to feed they swell up and are more noticeable. They’re also hard to remove because they stick their little tick heads right into the skin to latch on and feed. Ewh.
So, other than the ick factor what’s the big deal? Ticks can carry some pretty nasty diseases.
Just like with humans, dogs can get Lyme disease from ticks, although not all infected dogs will get sick. The major signs of Lyme disease in dogs is a form of arthritis. There is a quick test for Lyme disease in dogs, which some vets like to do every year, but I prefer to do only in dogs with symptoms.
There are a number of other tick borne diseases that vary depending on the region you live in. Anaplasmosis (formerly known as Ehrlichia), Babesiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are all serious illnesses spread by ticks.
Talk to your vet about the risk of ticks, and tick borne diseases in your area before starting a preventive. The risk will vary depending on where you live, and your lifestyle. If you like to go camping, hiking or hunting with your dog make sure you bring that up if your vet doesn’t ask.
Check your dog over for ticks when you come inside at the end of the day. Tweezers and rubbing alcohol will help you pull the ticks off. Put a bit of rubbing alcohol on the tick, grab it firm with the tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly and steadily. They are really hard to pull out! The area may look red and irritated, but usually doesn’t need any additional treatment. If that redness isn’t going away, have your vet check it out.
There are fewer options for tick prevention on the market than for the rest of the critters. Topical treatments and collars have been the old stand by, but there are newer preventives in pill form that are quite effective as well.
There are no natural tick preventives. I don’t care what Google turns up!