Heartworm, Flea, and Tick Prevention
Studies by the American Heartworm Society have found that heartworm infections are increasing across the United States.
American Heartworm Society 2016 Incidence Map
What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is caused by the parasite Dirofilaria immitis, a type of worm that lives inside the pulmonary arteries (blood vessels in the lungs) and heart. Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes. When a mosquito infected with the heartworm larvae bites a dog or cat the larvae enter under their skin. The heartworm larvae migrate into the animal’s bloodstream and become adult heartworms after 6 months. It is a serious disease that primarily affects the heart and lungs but can also affect other organs. If left untreated heartworm disease causes heart failure and death.
Symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs include coughing, lethargy, exercise intolerance, lack of appetite, and sudden death. Unfortunately sometimes by the time symptoms occur it can be too late to treat heartworm disease. Cats with heartworm disease can have trouble breathing or sudden death. It is best not to wait until symptoms develop since irreversible damage may have already occurred by then.
Who is at risk?
All dogs and cats who are not on heartworm prevention are at risk. Heartworm disease has been found in all fifty states, though it is more prevalent in the south. Studies by the American Heartworm Societyhave found that heartworm infections are increasing across the United States. While most people know that heartworm disease affects dogs, many are unaware that it can also affect cats.
How is heartworm disease it diagnosed?
Heartworm disease is most commonly diagnosed using blood tests that detect the presence of heartworm antigens. Testing for heartworm disease in cats is less reliable than in dogs. Depending on the test results and the animal’s symptoms additional laboratory tests, radiographs and a cardiac ultrasound may also be recommended to determine infection and severity.
How is it treated?
The goal of treatment is to kill the heartworms without harming the patient. Fortunately, the treatment options have improved but they still have potential risks. Infected animals usually receive a series of medications, and intramuscular injections, hospitalization, and strict confinement to limit exercise for weeks to months. The truth is, treatment is expensive, time consuming, and has the potential for risks. For these reasons the goal should always be prevention rather than treatment of this horrible disease.
Prevention is Key!
Fortunately, there are numerous safe and effective heartworm preventive medications available. Heartworm preventive medications are available in many forms: oral, topical, and injectable. In addition to protecting your pets from heartworm disease, many of the heartworm preventions also protect your pet against other parasites. Heartworm prevention is prescription only, meaning it is only available through veterinarians and cannot be purchased over the counter. It is important to note that deworming medications that are available over the counter do not prevent heartworm disease.
Spring Branch Veterinary Hospital carries several options of heartworm prevention. We carry oral, topical, and injectable forms. Trifexis is a monthly oral tablet for dogs that prevents heartworm disease, fleas, and intestinal parasites. Heartguard is a monthly oral tablet for dogs that prevents heartworm disease and intestinal parasites. ProHeart is a twice yearly injection given by us that prevents heartworm disease and intestinal parasites in dogs. Advantage Multi is a monthly topical heartworm and flea prevention for cats. Please call us if you would like to discuss the best heartworm and parasite control program for your pet.
If you would like to learn more about heartworm disease read here.
If you would like to learn more about heartworm disease read here.
Fleas are a problem all year in Texas, however they flourish in the spring time with perfect temperatures and humidity levels. Fleas thrive in temperatures between 65-80 Fahrenheit and 75-85% humidity. This makes spring and fall ideal times for flea infestations on our pets in Texas.
The Flea Life Cycle:
Fleas are tiny parasites that survive by ingesting the blood from warm-blooded hosts. There are 2,500 species of fleas, however dogs and cats are most commonly infested with the cat flea, or Ctenocephalides felis. Fleas have four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Understanding the life stages is important for proper treatment and prevention of fleas.
–Eggs: Female fleas can lay up to 20 eggs at a time, typically depositing the eggs on an animal or in the environment (your house or yard)
–Larva: In ideal conditions eggs hatch into larva after 3- 14 days. In cold or dry conditions eggs can lay dormant for long periods of time before hatching.
–Pupa: In the pupa phase, fleas live in a cocoon. When the pupa sense a warm-blooded animal nearby, they develop into an adult. If no food sources are detected they can remain in a cocoon for months waiting for an animal.
–Adults: Adult fleas focus entirely on feeding and reproducing. Female fleas lay eggs on the animal host as well as in the environment around the animal. Animal bedding can often be infested with flea eggs. Did you know that one adult flea can lay up to 500 eggs in her life?! A flea’s lifespan varies from a few weeks to several months.
Consequences of Fleas on Pets:
Fleas infest dogs and cats by jumping onto them from the environment. Adult fleas are 1/8 – 1/6 of an inch in size, however they can jump over 12 inches! Fleas cause a wide variety of problems to pets, ranging from skin irritation to life threatening blood-borne diseases! The most common symptoms of fleas on pets are itchy, irritated skin, red inflamed skin, and hair loss. Dogs will sometimes lose hair around their tail base and hind end.
Most people are aware of fleas causing itchy skin however few are aware of the internal and sometimes serious life-threatening diseases fleas can inflict on dogs and cats. Fleas can transmit tapeworms to dogs and cats when they accidently ingest fleas while grooming. Tapeworms are segmented flat white parasites that live in the intestines of animals. Pets with severe flea infestations can become extremely anemic from blood loss as the fleas feed. Flea bite anemia can sometimes be life threatening and be fatal without a blood transfusion. Some dogs and cats can actually have an allergy to the saliva of fleas and become intensely itchy and uncomfortable. Pets with a flea allergy dermatitis can acquire secondary skin infections. Fleas, as well as ticks, can transmit several vector-borne diseases to pets and people. Haemobartonellosis is a parasitic mycoplasma bacterial blood infection that cats can transmit from fleas. Symptoms of Haemobartonellosis in cats include fever, depression, poor appetite, pale or yellow gums. It can be a life threatening condition if not treated quickly by a veterinarian. If you ever suspect these or any other problems with your pet it is important for them to be seen by a veterinarian soon.
People can contract “cat scratch fever” from a scratch or bite from an animal with fleas. Cat scratch fever is caused by Bartonella, which is present in the feces of fleas.
Flea Prevention is Key!
Prevention is key when it comes to treating flea infestations in pets. Due to the complex life cycle of fleas as well as the hundreds of eggs laid by each female flea, it is imperative
to treat the entire life cycle of the flea. Flea products that only treat adult fleas are only temporary solutions because they allow the immature stages of the fleas to grow and become adults. There are prescription flea prevention products that control the entire flea life cycle. Many over the counter flea treatments often only offer very temporary relief from fleas. It is important to talk us or your regular veterinarian about the best flea prevention plan for your pet. All pets in the household should be on a flea prevention program. Make sure to use products as directed. Never use products intended for a dog on a cat, or vice versa. Spring Branch Veterinary Hospital carries several types of flea prevention products for pets, including both topical and oral products. If there was a flea infestation you should also clean bedding, upholstery, carpets, and floors. In some cases the yard and house may need to be treated by an exterminator.
At Spring Branch Veterinary Hospital, we work with you to personalize a flea prevention protocol that is custom to your pet’s needs and lifestyle.
Ticks are an unsightly nuisance to pets, that are also capable of transmitting some deadly diseases to both pets and people. Ticks are arachnids, similar to spiders and mites. Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of a host. Ticks that embed in a pet’s skin can transmit a variety of serious and even life threatening infectious diseases including:
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Lyme Disease
- Cytauxzoonosis (cats)
Many of these infectious diseases can cause problems in pets including anemia, low platelets, blood clotting disorders, immune mediated disease, joint disease, fever, jaundice, heart or lung disease, tick paralysis, and death.
Here are 5 ways to prevent Tick Borne Diseases in Pets:
1. Know the symptoms of Tick Borne Disease
Luckily the majority of pets exposed to ticks never develop a tick-borne disease. But for those who do, early recognition of symptoms, quickly arriving at a diagnosis, and prompt treatment by a veterinarian helps the likelihood of a good prognosis. If your pet has tick exposure, talk with us or your regular veterinarian about what symptoms you should be on the look out for. Some general symptoms of tick borne diseases include lethargy, fever, poor appetite, excessive bruising or prolonged bleeding, lameness, jaundice, coughing, and exercise intolerance.
2. Tick Prevention
Prevention is the golden rule when it comes to keeping your dog free from tick-borne diseases. Ticks are a problem all year in Texas. Ticks prefer areas with dense vegetation. Much of their time is spent on the ground, but they crawl up to the tips of shrubs and grasses. This improves their ability to leap onto an animal passing by. It is best to avoid exposing your dog to such shrubby and grassy areas for extended periods of time.
Use tick prevention products
There are a variety of products on the market that prevent and/or kill ticks. It is important for you to talk with us or your regular veterinarian about the best tick prevention product for your pet’s lifestyle. Bravecto is an effective oral flea and tick prevention product for dogs that is given by mouth once every 3 months.
Other tick-prevention options include monthly medication applied topically (to the skin). There are a variety of products to choose from and most are combined with flea prevention medication. Advantix in one example of a topical flea and tick monthly prevention product.
Some tick collars work well, but are not a good choice for dogs who do a lot of swimming or those who play with other dogs (chemicals within the collar might be ingested by your dog’s playmate). One example of an effective tick collar is Seresto. Some over the counter flea and tick products can cause skin rashes or harmful effects to pets so it is very important to talk with a veterinarian about the best product for your pet. Never use a product made for dogs on cats. At Spring Branch Veterinary Hospital our yearly wellness bloodwork often involves testing for common tick borne infections.
3. Check Your Dog Daily for Ticks
Perform a “tick check” on your pet daily, particularly following outdoor excursions. Getting rid of ticks before they’ve had a chance to embed greatly reduces the possibility of disease transmission. Ticks can often be in hard to see places like in or around ears, around the head, between toes, and other less obvious places.
4. Save Ticks if You Remove Them
Saving the ticks you remove just might prove to be useful. Different species of ticks transmit different diseases. Given that symptoms of the various tick-borne diseases overlap, having knowledge of the type of tick your dog was exposed to may be helpful. We recommend dunking and storing the ticks in a disposable container filled with isopropyl alcohol. Show them to us or your regular veterinarian should your pet become sick.
5. Remove embedded ticks promptly and properly
It is important to remove any embedded ticks as soon as possible. Less time spent attached to your dog lessens the odds of disease transmission. It is important to wear gloves when touching ticks or removing ticks. Ticks can also transmit diseases to people.
You’ll find dozens of recommendations online describing how to remove an embedded tick. Be wary of what you read. Many methods are harmful or not effective. Do not burn ticks off your pet!! Burning a tick with a hot match is not effective, and you risk singeing your dog’s fur or hurting them. Coating the tick with Vaseline or some other type of lubricant does not work well. And acetone, such as the chemical found in nail polish removers, causes the tick to become brittle and more likely to break during the removal process. The best method for ticks that are not severely embedded is using a pair of tweezers and grasping the tick including the head as close to the pet’s skin as possible. Pull the tick out straight (perpendicular) from the pet’s skin and not at an angle. If the tick is severely embedded, difficult to remove, or if the head breaks off, it is best to have a veterinarian remove it. If there is a severe tick infestation it is best to have a veterinarian remove them as well. Wash the skin well after removing the tick. Monitor the skin for 1-2 weeks for any swelling or redness. Talk with us or your veterinarian about preferred methods for removing embedded ticks. Whichever method you choose, be sure to wear gloves so as to eliminate any risk of disease transmission for yourself. If you would like to discuss preventing ticks in your pets or tick borne disease, please call us at 830-438-7800.
Megan Hughes, DVM
Spring Branch Veterinary Hospital