How to Prevent Fleas, Ticks, and Heartworm in Pets
Understanding your pet's risk is the first step in preventing the spread of disease, keeping your pet safe and healthy.
It seems that we try to do everything to protect our pets and keep them healthy. We make sure they get the best food, get plenty of play and exercise, and take them to the veterinarian when they are sick. Sometimes though, the biggest dangers can come from the smallest sources. Dangerous parasites and insects can infest your pet causing a slew of additional health problems that, if left untreated, can be deadly. Fleas, ticks, and heartworms can cause dangerous diseases which luckily can be prevented by taking the right precautionary steps to keep your pet safe and healthy.
Often depicted in cartoons which make it seem common for cats and dogs to have fleas, these little insects can do a great deal of damage. Fleas are small insects that are parasitic, relying on other animals, or people, to sustain them. There are several species of fleas, and the insect itself has been around for thousands of years. They eat the blood of their host to stay alive, sometimes sucking blood for up to 2 1/2 hours at a time, draining your pet of important life sustaining fluids. Fleas can cause infection or anemia if too much blood has been removed from your pet's system. The biggest problem with fleas is how quickly they can spread. They can lay 40-50 flea eggs per day, making a flea infestation quickly spiral out of control.
How to Identify
Fleas are very tiny creatures and are often difficult to identify. They are very small, often looking like a speck of dirt, with a hard exterior shell. More often than not, pet owners will notice evidence of fleas, rather than seeing the insect itself. Commonly called "flea dirt" the detritus left from the fleas will look like small, black pepper dotting your pet's fur and skin. You may also see evidence of fleas on blankets, the sofa, and the carpet as well.
How to Prevent
While there is no surefire way to prevent a flea bite, killing existing fleas to prevent a big infestation can be easy. There are many topical medications that work to kill fleas, should they bite your pet. These medications are available for both cats and dogs, and often will stay in your pet's system for about 30 days. Alternatively, companies are also making a chewable medication that will help kill fleas when they ingest your pet's blood. These too will last for 30 days and help keep your pet protected from an out of control infestation.
Another parasitic insect, ticks are commonly found in areas throughout the United States. Ticks are found in the outdoors and are usually acquired from taking walks and hikes outdoors. Ticks will latch onto their host, sucking the blood of both cats and dogs. The real danger with ticks is that they are able to spread a dangerous disease, called Lyme disease. There is no cure for this disease, and it can be deadly if not caught and treated early. It is important to remember that not every tick carries Lyme, but recent estimates suggest that nearly half of all ticks have the disease in their system, which can be passed along to you or your pet.
How to Identify
Ticks are small, round, and dark. Your location will dictate the types of ticks that live in your area. A tick that has not been fed will be hard and flat, while an engorged tick will appear bloated and fat, full of newly acquired blood. It can be difficult to see ticks on pets, especially if your pet has thick or dark fur. More often than not, pet owners will feel a tick as they pet their dog or cat, before they are able to see a tick. While many medications will kill the tick as soon as it latches on, you can also safely remove ticks from pets to prevent infection.
How to Prevent
Just like with fleas, there are several topical medications that can be applied to your pet's skin, safe for cats and dogs, that can help kill ticks. Often, the same medication that will kill fleas will do double duty, targeting ticks as well. Alternatively, chewable medication is also available that can help to kill ticks on contact. It's important to remember that there are not any medications to repel ticks completely, but medications will kill a tick as soon as it bites and latches to your pet.
This common pet parasite is difficult to target because it is impossible to see until it is too late. Heartworm is a dangerous worm that can enter your pet's system in the larva state through an infected mosquito biting your pet. These worms will target your pet's heart and lungs, growing and multiplying to substantial size until your pet is eventually suffocated. Heartworm is more common in certain areas of the United States, with more cases concentrated in hot, moist climates where mosquitoes are more populous.
How to Identify
Unfortunately, there is no definitive way to see or identify heartworm because it spreads to your pet when it is still in a microscopic larva form. Identifying a mosquito who carries heartworm, from one that doesn't, is impossible. What you can identify though are the symptoms associated with a heartworm infection. These include trouble breathing, lack of energy, and a distended chest.
How to Prevent
Preventing heartworm is easy with monthly medication. These chews and tablets designed to prevent heartworm are easy to administer and can keep your pet not only protected from heartworm, but from other common parasitic worms as well. The chewable tablets are available for both cats and dogs, and often are flavored so pets will devour their monthly medication eagerly.
Know Your Risks
Of course, not every area experiences the same parasitic pests, and many areas have seasons in which ticks and mosquitos are inactive, like during a cold winter. It is important to understand and weigh your risks when it comes to halting preventative treatment through colder weather. Recent winters have been warmer than usual, allowing many insects to survive through the mild temperatures. Suspending medication through the winter may still leave your pet at risk to contract a dangerous parasite. If you have concerns or questions regarding your particular risk in your geographic location, be sure to talk to your veterinarian about recommended treatment and preventative medication options to keep your pet safe.