They are gross and annoying. Your cats and dogs are exposed to them every day, even indoors. When your vet urges you to keep your pets on flea and heartworm preventatives, they are looking out for your pet’s long-term health and not just preventing itching and irritation.
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. Fleas and ticks carry a variety of blood parasites such as Hemobartonella, Cytauxzoon, Hepatozoon canis, Anaplasma, Erlichia and Babesia. Lyme disease is caused by ticks carrying bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. Weird sounding names but all of these can cause life-threatening anemia, respiratory disease, lameness and other serious illnesses. Many hunters know tick paralysis, caused by a toxin, can lay a healthy coon dog flat.
The mosquito carrying the Zika virus is threatening to close the Summer Olympics. In North Carolina, mosquitoes carry 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, matures and replicates. After a time, the heart fills with worms, can no longer function, and your pet dies of heart failure.
Luckily, there are medications that can prevent these infections. Over the past decade, preventatives 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 protect your pet and 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 that may be toxic to your pet, and you, if you contact them.
One thing to remember: Never Use a Dog Product on a Cat!
Look at the label carefully because some dog products can be FATAL to 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. They 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 8 months. If using a Seresto collar, you will need to use a heartworm medication and a general dewormer regularly to get full coverage.
If you have a flea problem in your home, you must treat the environment as well as the pet. Fleas lay millions and millions of eggs. Diligently cleaning and treating carpets, bedding, and floors will help keep them from multiplying. Your dog or cat, with their medication on-board, will be a walking exterminator – when the flea bites the pet, the flea dies.
Lastly, fleas are very diligent and patient parasites — their eggs can lay dormant for long periods, 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. Asheville winters are cold 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 preventatives all year long.
After a long career in finance, Dr. Carnohan returned to school and graduated from the Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine at the tender age of 50. She bought the Cat Care Clinic of Asheville in August 2013.
photo credit: American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis (Say, 1821) ♂ via photopin (license)