By Steve Guntli
The warmer weather lets you spend more time outdoors with your pets, but it also means encounters with parasites. Fleas, ticks and mosquitoes have been dormant through the winter, but they are now awake and ready to feast. Taking preventative measures to protect your dogs and cats will save you money on vet bills, and could even save your pets’ lives.
Here’s how to combat these common parasites.
By far the biggest problem affecting pets in this area are fleas. These tiny parasites are everywhere, living in the grass and soil outside and in thick carpet fibers inside. Peter Rule, a veterinarian for Ferndale’s Glacierview Animal Hospital, said he expects this year will be particularly bad for flea infestations.
“Fleas are drawn to warm, moist climates, which we have here almost year-round,” he said. “Usually a good two-week freeze will kill off the fleas, but we didn’t have that this year, so I expect the flea problem will be particularly bad. It doesn’t matter if you live in an apartment in the city or a house in the country, there’s no escaping them.”
To make matters worse, Rule said, most topical products, like flea collars or shampoos, don’t work, and over-the-counter medications can actually do more harm for your pet than good.
The best solution to combat the flea problem is to see your vet and get your pet on a monthly prescription flea prevention program. These medications kill any fleas on the pet quickly and make it difficult for them to reproduce in the house. Medications cost $20 per month on average, but they can relieve a lot of problems before they begin.
While topical treatments for pets usually are ineffective, treating your house with sprays or bug bombs can be a good way to keep larvae from hatching.
Heartworms are one of the most common parasites to affect dogs and cats, and while they are 100 percent preventable, they are still serious threats to your pets’ health, according to the Companion Animal Parasite Council. Heartworm larvae are transmitted through mosquito bites, and eventually work their way to the chambers of the heart, where they can impede blood flow and cause organ damage throughout the body. In dogs, there are often no symptoms at all, so it’s important to bring your dog to the vet for frequent heartworm screenings.
While it’s more common for heartworms to appear in dogs, feline heartworms can be just as devastating and usually require different methods of treatment. Cats will tend to lose weight, suffer from diarrhea and display difficulty breathing. In either case, your vet can easily and inexpensively treat the parasite.
Heartworms can be easily prevented. Most preventative heartworm medications are either oral or topical, and must be given monthly. These medications kill the heartworm larvae before they have a chance to mature into adult heartworms. It is important to medicate even indoor pets, as mosquitoes can get inside.
A parasite that can cause a particular problem for those of us who live near the water is giardia. Giardia is a microscopic, water-born parasite most commonly found in the feces of affected animals or humans. Pets can get infected with giardia by drinking from infected water sources and, as any pet owner knows, animals will drink out of just about anything. Pets with giardia will present symptoms similar to dysentery, including vomiting and diarrhea.
The best way to prevent against giardia is to keep a close eye on your pet’s water supply. Make sure they don’t get too excited about that stagnant puddle in the park, and instead pack in a fresh source of clean water for your dog to drink.
Always check with your vet before starting any medications or treatments. For more tips on pet care, visit humanesociety.org.