Many different diseases and illnesses can affect our pets. Some are viral and can spread like wildfire between animals through the air or contact with bodily fluids, while others are transmitted via parasites like fleas, ticks, and mosquitos. These diseases make vaccination and preventative treatments essential elements of any pet’s healthcare plan.
Two of the biggest misconceptions about preventative treatment are that it doesn’t need to be applied all year and that preventatives for parasites are less important than vaccinations for diseases like parvovirus, leptospirosis, or kennel cough. Neither of these is true. Parasites, even mosquitos, can be found all year round and are robust enough to survive some inclement weather conditions. Many of the diseases transmitted by parasites can also be serious, and in some cases, even deadly, meaning that it is just as important to ensure our animals are adequately protected against these too.
Let’s take a brief look at the importance of three of the most prevalent parasites to affect our animals – fleas, ticks, and heartworms.
Fleas are almost microscopic, wingless creatures that live on your pet’s skin and survive by drinking their blood. Once they are full, they drop off and wait for the next passing host, which they attach themselves to using their immense jumping capabilities. Fleas pass diseases such as Typhus, Cat Scratch Disease, and Tapeworms. Many diseases transmitted by fleas can affect the humans in your family, as well as your pets.
The main symptom of fleas is intense itching. This is because their saliva is highly irritating to your pet’s skin. Many animals are allergic to it. And fleas aren’t selective and will feed on humans as well as your pets. They also reproduce at an exponential rate, meaning that just a few fleas can quickly turn into a huge infestation that can be very difficult to treat. Year-round prevention is essential.
Ticks are dark, seed-sized arachnids that can transmit an array of infectious diseases. They can’t jump or fly, but they attach or drop onto the skin of animals or people that brush past them. Once they bite into the skin, they feed for a few days, swelling in size as they fill with blood before dropping off. If a tick is spotted and removed quickly, it may not have had time to transmit any diseases it is carrying. However, if it is left for several days, it is likely to pass these onto your pet. Their head/mouthparts can also get stuck in the skin and cause infection.
Most pets don’t show signs of having a tick and instead, owners should check their animals daily for any sign of them, especially if they spend time outside. If your pet contracts a disease from a tick bite, such as Lyme Disease, they will then start to develop symptoms like lethargy, loss of appetite, and a fever. While ticks are more prevalent in the summer months, some varieties can survive in all types of weather, making continual prevention crucial.
Heartworms are an internal parasites and arguably the most dangerous of their kind. Heartworms are transmitted by infected mosquitos, which carry immature heartworm larvae from host to host when they feed. Once passed into your pet’s bloodstream, they travel to the blood vessels of the heart and lungs where they mature into adults capable of reproducing. Single heartworms may be as thin as a piece of string but can grow up to a foot in length. As they reproduce and their numbers grow, they start to restrict blood flow, causing damage to your pet’s organs, making it harder for them to breathe and function normally. Symptoms develop very slowly but include a soft, persistent cough, lethargy after exercise, and loss of appetite. The subtleness of the symptoms helps make heartworms particularly dangerous as often, detection comes late in the disease when significant damage has already been done to your pet’s health. While treatment is possible, it’s lengthy, unpleasant, expensive, and not without its risks. Without treatment, heartworms are almost certainly fatal in dogs.
Fortunately, there are lots of different preventatives that are highly efficient at protecting our pets from diseases spread by parasites like fleas, ticks, and heartworms. These are available as topical/spot-on treatments, orally-taken tablets and in the case of heartworms, there is even an injection that can be given to provide protection. Some preventatives even combine protection against multiple parasites at once, meaning fewer medications to give your furry friend. Ask your vet in Spring, TX which preventatives they recommend for your pet.
For more advice on preventative medications for your pet, please contact our veterinary team at Springwood Veterinary Hospital in Spring, Texas today at (281) 370-3262 to schedule an appointment.