Fleas, Ticks, and Other Maladies How to Protect Your Furry Friends

*Story is in Women’s Edition Magazine, May 2018

Spring is in full swing, and it’s time for pet owners to arm their pets against common dangers like fleas, ticks, rabies, and heartworm. As the sun comes out, so do other animals, and they may bring risks that can endanger the health of your pet as well as the cleanliness of your home.

Fleas love warmth and humidity, so a furry friend is their ideal environment. Females can produce up to 50 eggs in a single day, and these tiny pests can quickly become an issue on a large scale, infesting beds, carpeting, couches, and any other furniture your pet rests on. Females begin laying eggs within 24 hours, so it is essential to stay sharp and act fast.

The cardinal sign of fleas is excessive scratching, which, if left untreated, can lead to sores and skin infections. Adult fleas are typically no larger than a sesame seed, and they can be difficult to detect. One tell-tale sign is the accumulation of flea dirt—that is, the small black droppings left behind in your pet’s coat. Even if the bugs themselves are not obviously present, it is essential to take this as a sign of infestation.

Once you’ve identified the issue, your vet will suggest a treatment and extermination plan based on your pet’s needs and the severity of the infestation. In addition to treating your pet, you’ll need to treat your home by vacuuming carpets and upholstered furniture and frequently washing bedding, clothing, and other surfaces to lift and dispose of any leftover fleas and their eggs (some of which may hatch even after falling off their host).

Ticks are another common issue for dogs and cats. Found in tall grass and undergrowth, ticks can latch onto any animal that enters their vicinity. Dogs will most likely have ticks around their neck and ears or in the folds of their legs. Be sure to check between their toes, too. On cats, ticks typically attach to the neck and face area. Ticks can cause skin irritation, spread infectious disease, and even lead to anemia. This is because an adult tick can absorb up to 100 times its weight in blood!

Heartworm is a disease caused by foot-long worms that occupy the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of their host. As a result, infected pets can develop severe lung disease, heart failure, and other ailments. Affecting dogs and cats, wolves, coyotes, foxes, and even people, heartworms are insidious parasites that breed inside the host. Dogs are the ideal carrier for heartworms, and your vet can provide medication to treat your dog.

In cats, however, heartworms usually don’t survive long enough to breed. This sounds like good news, but it means that heartworm disease often goes unnoticed in cats, since they only host a couple of worms. Unfortunately, the medication used to treat heartworm in dogs cannot be used to treat cats, so prevention is the only way to keep your cat healthy. Talk to your vet about heartworm prevention. If your pet shows symptoms like persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, decreased appetite, weight loss, a swollen abdomen, or vomiting, seek help from a veterinarian immediately.

Rabies is one of the most severe viruses a pet can contract, as it affects an animal’s brain and central nervous system. This disease can occur in any mammal, including humans. It is spread through saliva (usually, from a bite from an infected animal) and penetrates through the closest nerve fibers to invade the CNS. Symptoms develop over a few weeks and include fever, seizures, hydrophobia, inability to swallow, irritability, and the classic frothing mouth. Once symptoms appear, however, rabies is nearly always fatal. If you see symptoms like these in your dog, be sure to bring your proof of vaccination to your veterinarian along with the infected animal. Post-exposure treatment is available for humans who are bitten by an animal whose rabies vaccination status is unknown. For pets, the best approach is vaccination. In most municipalities, it is required for pet licensure; check with your veterinarian.

Dental care is a great way to improve your pet’s quality of life. Weekly brushings that remove excess plaque and tartar can mean the difference between a healthy mouth and developing oral issues. Your pet’s teeth should be checked annually by your veterinarian. If your pet has bad breath, has broken or loose teeth, or refuses to eat, call your vet right away. Talk with your veterinarian about treats and foods that are designed to help maintain dental health.

With the right prevention, your pet may be able to avoid health hazards like fleas, ticks, heartworm, rabies, and dental problems. If a problem crops up, your vet can recommend the treatment tactics that are best for your pet’s needs.

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