Friday, June 15, 2012
Column: Lake tails
Tick and flea alert: Prevalence heats up with weather
With a mild winter and a wet, warm spring, conditions are perfect for a banner year of insect breeding.
The presence of bugs on us and on our pets is a common fear that affects most people. Whether it's the cicadas screaming at us or the stink bugs overloading our olfactory senses, most people want to know how to limit the entrance of bugs into our homes, and especially, how to limit them from landing on us. But nothing compares to how freaked out most people get with the thought of ticks and fleas on their pets and in their homes.
Fleas, ticks and mosquitoes, already in full attack mode, can impact both the quality of life and the health of pets. I can always see the fear and disgust in the eyes of clients when I tell them their pet has fleas and there could be fleas in their homes. It is even worse after informing them that flea eggs fall off pets wherever they lay down and they remember that their beloved pet sleeps on their bed.
Fleas not only are gross, but they can make our pets miserable. Fleas transmit tapeworms to dogs and cats when ingested during grooming. They also can cause severe dermatologic problems such as flea allergy dermatitis, which can make them constantly itchy and very uncomfortable. This annoys the heck out of owners who have to listen to them biting, chewing and licking themselves all day and all night.
Fortunately, your veterinarian can help treat your pet's itchiness and secondary skin infections in addition to offering advice on the best way to combat fleas. Because we did not have a hard freeze this year, which typically kills the immature fleas outside, we are in for a tough summer for flea control.
There are some topical products and oral medications administered monthly that are very effective in killing and repelling fleas. Be aware, however, that fleas have become resistant to many over-the-counter products. Heed the old adage that "you get what you pay for" and discuss with your vet the best products to use for your specific situation.
The gross-out factor that fleas cause usually is far outweighed by the fear instilled by ticks. The most likely explanation is the well-publicized infections such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever that ticks can transmit. The same ticks can transmit these infections to both humans and animals.
Ticks are extremely prevalent and can live for years in the Smith Mountain Lake area. They are found throughout wooded areas and tall grass fields where dogs and their owners pick them up while hiking, walking on trails and playing. Ticks transmit infections such as Lyme disease during a blood meal, which typically takes hours to complete.
While there are not any great repellants, the once-a-month topical Frontline medication is a great product that kills the ticks fairly rapidly, usually before they can attach their mouthparts to your pet. A daily tick check usually reveals dead or dying ticks unable to finish a blood meal and thus transmit any infections.
Heartworm infections do not get the human emotions flowing as much as do flea and tick infestations, likely because we can't see them. However, Dirofilarial immitus, the canine heartworm, is by far the most common blood-borne parasite that can strike pets, accounting for tens of thousands of cases a year.
Transmission of this worm is by a single mosquito that picks up the infective stage while taking a blood meal from an infected animal and then transmits it when it bites a pet.
Heartworm disease is potentially life-threatening and expensive to treat, but it is easy and inexpensive to prevent with monthly oral prescription medication. Topical medications advertised to prevent mosquito bites are not acceptable as prevention from heartworms. They are not effective at repelling mosquitoes nor are topical human products using pesticides such as DEET safe, because many dogs will lick these sprays off and ingest these dangerous compounds. Discuss with your veterinarian which is the best product for your pet.
The summer's warm, humid weather makes for long days spent outside playing and doing outdoor activities. For many of us, that also means our pets follow us around supervising and inspecting our duties, but hopefully, not causing us to have to redo our activities even if they do not like the way we mulched the flower bed (stupid dogs).
With the milder winters in recent years, preventing pests from affecting our pets requires a year-round strategy. We do not need to prevent all bugs from touching our pets at all times, but with the advice of your veterinarian, you can decide which products to use to limit the dangerous ones before they cause a problem.
Dr. Brian Weitzman practices at Smith Mountain Lake Animal Hospital. He can be reached at 297-9188 or firstname.lastname@example.org.