Flea, Tick & Heartworm

Heartworm, Flea and Tick Prevention and Treatment

These are some pesky parasites! Although we are fortunate enough to have few issues with these pests during the winter months, these nasty parasites are becoming a much bigger problem for High Country pets than they used to be. As the summer months warm up and our active population starts getting outside more and taking animals on trips to lower elevations, the risk for heartworm disease and exposure to fleas and ticks becomes much greater. Last summer, Breckenridge Animal Clinic treated 4 dogs for heartworm infection.

The early spring is the ideal time to talk to your vet about a flea, tick and heartworm prevention regimen for your animal. These parasites can be easily controlled with regular (monthly) maintenance and as we always stress – PREVENTION is the key! Heartworm can be especially devastating and costly if your animal happens to contract the disease.

Heartworms Continue to Plague Pets

Each year, veterinarians do battle with an ancient enemy of our dogs and cats. Heartworms are easily preventable with affordable and safe medications, but positive cases continue to rise. Is there any hope that we could see an end to this parasite?

By: Dr. Jim Humphries, Veterinary News Network

It’s been more than 150 years since a scientist discovered the heartworm parasite of dogs and more than 80 years since the parasite was found in cats. Still, each year hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats are diagnosed with this dreaded worm and it is estimated that North American cases are actually in the millions. In all this time, why have we not found a way to combat and stop this plague?

Heartworm disease is devastating to the pet’s health. Spread by mosquitoes, this parasite can grow close to two feet long and takes up physical space in the heart’s chambers and pulmonary artery. This means that the dog’s heart must work harder to push the same amount of blood out to the body. Early signs of this disease included fatigue and exercise intolerance, but later signs can include coughing, fluid accumulation in the lungs or abdomen and death.

For cats, the heartworm larvae prefer the lungs and can cause vomiting, asthma like symptoms and even sudden death in some cases.

Not only is the pet harmed, but the owner is affected as well. Heartworm treatments for small dogs can run in excess of $500 and costs for larger breeds might surpass $1200 or even $1500. Sadly, the case might be worse for cats as there is no approved treatment for heartworms in our feline friends.

Amazingly, veterinarians do have an answer to this problem. Safe, effective heartworm medications exist in a variety of easy to use applications. What’s even more incredible is that the cost of a lifetime of preventive for most pets is significantly less than a single treatment for the disease. So, why do pets continue to suffer and die from a preventable problem?

Two radical theories seen on the Internet state that either the heartworm medications are failing or that the parasites are developing a resistance to the drugs. While conspiracy theorists may love these ideas, scientific evidence for both is lacking. Heartworm preventives have a failure rate of less than 1 in 1 million doses. Likewise, the complex life cycle of the heartworm does not lend itself to developing a natural resistance to medications.

Some people look to climate change for answers. Increasing temperatures mean a longer mosquito season and larger potential for transmission to pets. While we are seeing more mosquitoes in previously mosquito-free areas, the likely reasons are changes made by humans. Irrigation of dry areas and increased plantings of trees in certain locales can actually help a mosquito population. More mosquitoes mean more opportunities for transmission of heartworms.

When all the facts are reviewed, the simplest reason for our failure to control this deadly parasite is simply that we don’t give the preventive as we should. Whether it’s forgetfulness or financial concerns, pet owners must realize that they are on the front lines in this battle and their actions could have dire consequences for the pet.

Thankfully, as pet owners, you do have powerful allies in this war. Your veterinarian can help you pick the best heartworm medication for your pet and your lifestyle. Oral formulations, like Heartgard and Sentinel, topical products, like Advantage Multi and even a long lasting injection, ProHeart 6, can help keep you on the winning side.

Beyond your veterinarian, veterinary pharmaceutical companies are also helping. Websites, such as http://us.merial.com and email alerts are available to help you remember to give the preventive on time.

Don’t waste time looking for “natural” or organic ways to prevent heartworms; they simply don’t exist. Follow recommendations given by your veterinarian and the American Heartworm Society (www.heartwormsociety.org). It’s the best way to keep your pet and your wallet safe! For more information on heartworms, visit www.MyVNN.com.

Parasite FAQ’s

What is a parasite?
A parasite is an organism that lives at the expense of another living being. In our pets, these usually take the form of intestinal worms (internal parasites) and fleas and ticks (external parasites).

How can I tell if my dog or cat has worms?
Certain parasites, such as tapeworms, are visible to the naked eye, but others must be detected under the microscope. If you will bring in a stool sample we will be glad to examine it microscopically to see if your pet has worms.

I saw small worms caught in the hair on my pets hind legs and tail. What are they?
Small white worms about the size of a grain of rice in length are tapeworm segments. They come from swallowing fleas or from eating mice. There are tablets you can purchase from your veterinarian to eradicate tapeworms. There are NO products in the pet stores or grocery stores to kill tapeworms. Also, in order to keep them away, you should practice good flea control.

Should I do a routine deworming of my pets?
We recommend routine deworming every 6 months to a year. If you don’t want to medicate your pet without knowing that she has worms we can do 3 consecutive fecal samples to prove whether or not she needs deworming.

How do I control fleas on my pet?
With the advancement of flea control programs, fleas are no longer the nuisance they once were for you and your pet. One option is liquid applied down the pets back which kills all fleas within 24 hours and continues killing them for 1 full month. Another option is a pill that is given by mouth every month with a meal. It available in an injection for cats which lasts 6 months. It makes female fleas lay sterile eggs – so called “birth control” for fleas. Both products are SAFE for your pets and your children. Do NOT confuse these products with others you find in the pet stores. Those products are insecticides which can potentially harm your pet.

Are flea collars very effective?
Not really. Since they are placed around the neck of the pet, they usually cannot kill any fleas which are around the tail of your pet. The insecticide from flea collars is designed to be absorbed into the pets blood stream and can be toxic. There are much better forms of flea control such as Advantage and Program. Call us for more information.

I think my dog has lice. What can I do?
Lice has become a significant problem in select regions in the past couple of years. Lice are small grayish parasites that attach themselves right to the skin and tend to be on the front end of the dog. Advantage (for fleas) does kill lice as well, but we recommend repeating the treatment every 2 weeks instead of every month. Lice are very species specific and cannot be transferred to you.

How do I prevent my dog from getting ticks?
Preventic Tick Collars and Defend Liquid are available for tick prevention on dogs. (These products cannot be used on cats). You should know that ticks carry a vast array of diseases including Lyme Disease. There is a vaccination for dogs against Lyme Disease but the best protection is prevention with the above products.

What are Heartworms and how can I prevent my dog from getting them?
Heartworms are parasites that actually live in the dog’s heart. There is a blood test available to test for heartworm. Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitos.  Dogs need to be treated year round. There is a once a month tablet that is used for prevention and can be given to your dog after she is confirmed heartworm negative with a blood test. Phone your veterinarian if you have any further questions about heartworm.

Fleas: They Really Get Under Our Skin!

Every year pet owners suffer the same frustrations. Warmer weather means more parasites, especially fleas! And, despite good, veterinary approved products, some pets are still subjected to these nasty bugs! What can we do to stop the infestation?

By: Dr. Jim Humphries, Veterinary News Network

Fleas are truly a pet owner’s curse and worst nightmare. Designed to survive and efficient at reproducing, these blood-sucking pests can quickly overrun house and home! In addition to causing misery for our pets, fleas have the potential to carry serious, even deadly diseases. In order to defeat this enemy, we need to understand their life cycle and dispel persistent myths that lead to ineffective control.

For every adult flea seen on a dog or cat, there are about 95 other fleas in various life stages (eggs, larvae and pupae) around the pet’s environment. The failure to address the juvenile life stages is a primary reason why owners never seem to win any battles against fleas. People also misunderstand how adult fleas interact with pets.

Once an adult flea finds your pet, there is very little short of death that will remove that flea from your dog or cat. People want to believe that fleas jump from pet to pet, like it is often depicted in cartoons. The fact is once a flea starts taking a blood meal from an animal, the flea will die within two hours if removed from the pet. Pets acquire fleas by picking them up from the environment, not from playing with their canine and feline friends.

Many owners want to blame the neighbors for their flea problems. Even if the dog next door is covered with fleas, it is unlikely for your pet to get fleas from that dog unless they share a common environment. Adult fleas simply do not “migrate” across lawns looking for their next meal.

Once on a pet, the flea will start drinking blood immediately and about eight hours later will start to mate with other fleas on the pet. Within about 24 hours, eggs are laid by the female fleas which roll off the pet and into the home/bed/yard. Females can lay 40-50 eggs per day over their lifetime, resulting in more than 2000 eggs added to the environment. Thirty adult fleas can explode into more than 250,000 fleas in less than one month!

Given these huge numbers, it is entirely possible to see live fleas on your pets that have been treated with flea medications. None of the flea treatments kill fleas immediately nor do they repel fleas. Most topical medications will kill fleas within 1-2 hours after the flea jumps onto the pet and oral products only work when the flea actually settles down and bites the pet.

Likewise, the life cycle of the flea means that new adults are continually present in the environment. Flea eggs are constantly hatching into flea larvae which then spin cocoons. Adult fleas hatch from the cocoons in as little as seven days but some can delay hatching for almost 180 days! Therefore, a single application of a flea medicine will not stop an existing infestation. In order to account for eggs, larva and pupae in the environment, your flea control needs to extend for at least 2 months and it could be as long as 7 months in some severe cases.

So, when you are faced with a flea problem in your home, what steps can help resolve it? First, talk with your veterinary staff about effective flea control medications. Products like Frontline Plus® or Advantage® are safe and have proven track records!

Next, make sure that all pets in the household are treated. Even the “indoor only” cat will need protection from adult fleas hatching in the home environment. Use the products as directed and don’t split doses among your pets.

Continue the treatment until the infestation is gone from the home. If your pet is picking up adult fleas in the yard or at the park, you may need to consider using a flea product all year long.

A home area treatment spray can help eliminate flea colonies more quickly, but be sure to use one that contains an insect growth regulator (IGR). IGRs prevent flea eggs from hatching and flea larva from molting.

Understanding the flea life cycle can help you defeat this unrelenting annual pest. Your veterinarian and staff will guide you towards the best flea product for your needs and can even answer concerns you have about treating the environment.

Ticks: Deadly Lyme Disease Takes Flight

Everyone knows that ticks, those creepy spider cousins, have the potential for carrying some pretty serious diseases to our pets. But, what’s less well known is that these blood thirsty parasites may be arriving in your backyard after traveling by air!

By: Dr. Jim Humphries, Veterinary News Network

Robins and many other songbirds are often the heralds of springtime and warmer weather just around the corner. Unfortunately, a new report is stating these welcome spring visitors are quite possibly spreading a serious disease of humans and pets…Lyme Disease!

When most people think about Lyme Disease, they automatically think about the eastern seaboard of the United States. While it is true that states near Connecticut account for almost 90% of all cases reported, Lyme Disease can be found in all 50 states and is truly a global disease.

Ticks are the primary vector for spreading Lyme Disease to people and also to dogs, cats and even horses. Usually, ticks will acquire the disease causing bacteria by feeding on infected rodents, the primary reservoir. Deer also play an important role as expanding populations import large numbers of ticks into new areas of the country.

But now, researchers at Yale have found that robins, blue jays and other common birds are also reservoirs of this illness. Furthermore, the nymph and larval stages of the tick life cycle can be carried by the birds across distances and into the yards where pets and people often roam. What this means is that the heralded robin of spring could be leaving their parasite passengers and Lyme Disease in your backyard.

Thankfully, transmission is fairly rare with only about 1% of all tick bites resulting in Lyme Disease. But, human cases have more than doubled in the last two decades and pet cases, especially among dogs, appear to be more common as well. Dr. Michael Dryden, a well-known flea and tick expert, has stated that one reason could be a rise in tick populations due to more suitable habitats.

Furthermore, veterinarians are well-equipped to discover and treat this disease. An in-clinic test kit is available that finds antibodies to several tick-borne diseases, including Lyme Disease. Animals with positive results are usually started on a course of antibiotics depending on the severity or even presence of clinical signs.

There is controversy, though, over the interpretation of the result if the pet tests positive but shows no signs of Lyme Disease. The good news is that your veterinarian will understand the prevalence of the illness in your area and can help you make treatment decisions based on that knowledge.

Pet owners have several different options to help prevent tick exposure. Although tick killing collars are available, most people choose a topical “spot-on” type of medication. Products like Frontline® and Advantix® have shown good results by killing ticks before the bacteria can be transmitted to your pets. You should always follow your veterinarian’s advice for these products as some of them, especially those sold over the counter, can be harmful to cats.

Vaccines to prevent Lyme Disease from occurring in dogs are also available. Like all vaccines, there is controversy surrounding their use, but some experts feel that vaccinating dogs in Lyme-endemic areas helps to minimize cases and reduce disease and stress in pets. These vaccines work by generating antibodies that can kill the bacteria while it is still in the tick! Newer recombinant vaccines (Recombitek® and ProLyme®) reportedly show fewer adverse reactions and a higher efficacy than older, whole cell vaccines.

And, one of the most economical and satisfying ways to keep pets safe from ticks is to spend a little time each day brushing and grooming your pet. Experts agree that the Lyme bacteria needs about 18-24 hours in order to transmit to your pet, so a little daily pampering with brush and comb could find ticks before they can cause disease!

Even though ticks might be flying into your yard, the protection for your pets doesn’t have to be “fly by night”. Working with your veterinarian, you can find the safest and most economical plan for keeping your pets tick free. You can learn more about Lyme Disease and the ticks that carry this illness by visiting www.lymeprevention.com. To see videos of ticks and other creepy parasites, visit www.MyVNN.com.