Ewwwww, pests on your pets like fleas, ticks and mosquitoes are gross and annoying. Your cats and dogs are exposed to these every day, even if they are indoors. When your vet urges you to keep your pets on flea and heartworm preventives, they are looking out for your pet’s long-term health and not just preventing itching and irritation.
How do they make my pet sick?
Fleas, ticks and mosquitoes carry dangerous parasites – one bite can infect your cat or dog with a bug that you won’t even know is there until your pet gets sick. Fleas carry tapeworm eggs and both fleas and ticks carry a variety of blood parasites such as Hemobartonella, Cytauxzoon, Hepatozoon canis, Anaplasma, Erlichia and Babesia. Ticks carry the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes the dreaded Lyme disease. Many hunters are familiar with tick paralysis – ticks carry a toxin that can lay a healthy coon dog flat. Weird sounding names, but all of these can cause life-threatening anemia, respiratory disease, lameness and other serious illnesses.
The pesky mosquito was often in the news – the Zika virus threatened to close the last Summer Olympics. In most regions of the U.S., mosquitoes carry a very dangerous worm – the heartworm. When a mosquito bites your dog or cat, it transfers the larvae into your pet’s blood where it travels to the heart and matures and replicates. After a period of time, when the heart fills up with worms and can no longer function, your pet dies of heart failure. It’s not pretty.
Medications that work!
Luckily, there are medications that can prevent these infections. Over the past decade, preventives have been developed that are safe and effective. Dusting your pet with toxic “flea powder” has been replaced with oral and topical medications. I consider these monthly treatments an insurance policy that can not only protect your pet but also save you a lot of money; a blood test for flea- and tick-transmitted diseases can cost up to $250, and then there is the cost of treating the disease.
A $15 per month pill or spot-on is a better option. Not all medications are created equal – some don’t work and some are downright dangerous. The new effective products are very specific in killing the flea, tick or worm; many older products are merely pesticides. Pesticides may be toxic to your pet and you if you come into contact with it.
A very important thing to remember is NEVER USE A DOG PRODUCT ON A CAT! Look at the label carefully because some dog products can be FATAL if used on a cat. There are many products that you can buy at Walmart or even at the grocery store that may not work or may be dangerous to use on your pet (there is not a lot of regulation of pet products). Please consult your veterinarian about which products to use.
I am a big fan of the “multi-products” such as Revolution and Advantage Multi. These products work on fleas, heartworms, some intestinal worms and ear mites. There are no products that do everything. Frontline is not effective against fleas in North Carolina, but it is against ticks. Bayer now makes the Seresto collar that, unlike the old flea collars, actually works against both fleas and ticks for eight months. If using a Seresto collar, you will need to use a heartworm medication and use a general dewormer regularly to get full coverage.
If you are unlucky enough to have a flea problem in your home or RV, it is important that you not only treat the pets but you must also treat the environment. Fleas lay millions and millions of eggs. Diligent cleaning and treating carpets, bedding, and floors will help keep them from multiplying. Your dog or cat, with their medication on board, is a walking exterminator – when the flea bites the dog, it dies.
Flea poop = bad news
Oh, and by the way, flea poop can cause a nasty blood infection in people. It’s commonly called Cat Scratch Disease (CSD), but it also can be caused by dog scratches too. The nasty bug is a bacteria called Bartonella henselae. A cat or dog who has fleas scratches itself lodging flea poop under its nails. If your pet scratches you and breaks the skin, the bacteria infects your tissues. It can cause a minor infection or it can be more serious and spread via your blood making you very sick.
Lastly, fleas are very diligent and patient parasites – their eggs can lay dormant for long periods of time waiting for a warm-blooded host to wake them up. It is not uncommon for families and their pets to move into a new home only to set off a “flea bloom” – the previous tenants had pets with fleas leaving behind millions of eggs. Winters can discourage fleas and mosquitos, but fleas can live under porches, in sheltered sheds and on the squirrels that hop onto your deck. These are reasons I recommend keeping your pets on flea preventives all year long.
Ask the Pet Vet
Fido feeling under the weather? Fifi been having some tummy troubles? Worried about ticks? What’s better, wet food or dry food? Wondering how to clip your pet’s nails? Ask veterinarian Dr. Karel Carnohan your questions over on her forum.