Bug off – it’s heartworm, flea and tick season!

Photo by Jackie Sheppard and Megan VanParis

Photo by Jackie Sheppard and Megan VanParis

Most pets enjoy the warm weather – whether it be dogs enjoying a walk in the park or cats laying in their favorite spot in the sun. Although with the summer months, owners need to be aware of mosquitoes, fleas and ticks.

All about heartworm

Heartworm is a serious and possibly deadly disease that affects pets and is passed on through mosquitoes. When a mosquito bites and takes blood from a heartworm positive animal, in the blood there are microfilariae (baby worms) that over a 10-14 day period transform into infective larvae inside the mosquito. When the mosquito next bites a dog or cat, the infective larvae enter the pet and start their trek into the bloodstream. The infective larvae are invisible when they first enter the bloodstream, but as they reach maturity they can grow to 12 inches or more.

About six months after the initial infection, the heartworms reach the pet’s lungs and heart. By this time they also have infiltrated vital organs and damaged arteries during this journey. If your pet has heartworm disease and it is not adequately treated, dogs can have several hundred worms in their system. This can also cause permanent damage to the heart, lungs and arteries, and even affect the quality of life. 

While some dogs may show symptoms of labored breathing, coughing, vomiting, weight loss or lethargy after exercise, others may display no symptoms until later stages of heartworm infection. The best way to test if your furry family member has heartworms is through a heartworm test, which is done with a simple blood draw. If the test comes back positive, the doctor will go over the recommend course of treatment. Here at Blum Animal Hospital we recommend all dogs be on heartworm preventive year-round. We offer many different options such as Heartgard, Sentinel, Trifexis and Revolution; with all but Heartgard also offering flea prevention as well.

According to Dr. Natalie Marks, one of the owners and veterinarians here at Blum Animal Hospital, cats should be on a heartworm preventive called Revolution since there is no available heartworm treatment for them. Revolution is especially important for outdoor cats, but Dr. Marks recommends indoor cats be on it, too since they can be susceptible to mosquitoes by windows or open doors.

Shoo flea don’t bother me

Fleas thrive in warm, humid weather, and feed off of the blood of cats and dogs. While searching for a pet (or host), they can jump 10,000 times in a row, and their six legs help them jump up to 2 feet high. The life cycle of a flea ranges from 16 days to 21 months depending on the environment with the stages being egg, larvae, pupae and adult. The only time a flea cannot be killed is during the pupae phase.

Typically fleas tend to be found on a pet’s abdomen, base of tail or on the head. During heavy infestations fleas can flourish anywhere on your furry family member. Most of times fleas can be seen by the naked eye, but sometimes due to pet’s thick or bushy fur they are hard to find. Some of the symptoms of fleas include: “flea dirt” or droppings, allergic dermatitis, excessive biting or scratching, fur loss and tapeworms. If there is a persistent or long-term infestation, it can cause anemia or significant blood loss. This is due to fleas being able to consume 15 times their body weight in blood. Some signs of anemia include pale gums, lethargy and low body temperature.

Since fleas are very resilient insects, the best way to avoid them is making sure your pet is on preventives. Here at Blum Animal Hospital we offer Nexgard, the only chewable flea preventive. We also offer Sentinel (flavor tab), and Trifexis, Revolution and Advantix. (topical). We recommend applying flea prevention after a couple consecutive days of thaw in the warmer months and stopping after a couple consecutive days of frost in the winter. For pets that go to daycare regularly or are boarded, we recommend using flea preventives year-round just to make sure they are completely protected.

If your pet does contract fleas, the best way to get rid of them is by thoroughly cleaning your house. This includes rugs, bedding and upholstery. Vacuuming is a good way to get rid of fleas since they can even live in your floor boards! After vacuuming remember to discard the bag since fleas can survive and/or escape from them.

Tick tock

Last month I wrote a feature on Lyme disease in dogs. Most of the information for tick prevention is included in this blog. To access this blog, click here.

For more information on mosquitoes, fleas or ticks, please call us at: (773) 327-4446.

Written for Blum Animal Hospital by Jackie Sheppard.