Heartworm, Fleas and Ticks in your Vail Valley Pets

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Heartworm, Fleas and Ticks in your Vail Valley Pets

Heartworm, Fleas and ticks in your Vail Valley Pets!

If you have taken your pet to see their veterinarian recently, you were likely asked if your furry family member is currently taking a heartworm preventative and a flea and tick preventative. Depending on what area of the country you live in, fleas and ticks can be more seasonal parasites, but in most parts of the nation heartworm transmission is becoming more prevalent year-round. So what’s the big deal about preventing these parasites from infecting your dog or cat?


Fleas and ticks are usually the more obvious pests we think about when we turn our thoughts to parasites that can infect our pets. These are external organisms we can see and that can infect us as well, so it is more at the forefront of our minds as the weather warms up to remember to apply topical or oral medication for prevention. Fleas and ticks, in addition to being a nuisance, can cause severe diseases in our pets. For example, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Ehrlichiosis are all tick-borne diseases your animal can acquire. All of these diseases are actually caused by bacteria that the tick transmits to the animal that it bites. Common clinical signs caused by these infections include weight loss, lameness and joint pain, fever, loss of appetite, urinary tract signs, and neurological signs. Some of these diseases can be so severe they even cause death. Oftentimes, if your pet becomes infected they will need diagnostics such as bloodwork, radiographs, and treatments including antibiotics and even hospitalization for supportive care.


In addition to tick-borne diseases, fleas can also be carriers of certain types of infectious organisms. For example, tapeworms are intestinal parasites that are carried and can be transmitted by fleas. Reportable diseases such as tularemia and the plague are bacterial infections transmitted by fleas that can be fatal not only to your pet, but to you and your family as well.  Many pets can also have severe allergic reactions to flea bites, and if you notice your dog or cat constantly scratching, has hair loss, and/or red flakey skin, one of the first problems your vet will want to rule out is flea allergy. All of these issues are diseases that can be prevented by the simple once monthly at home administration of topical or oral flea and tick preventative.


Heartworms are another parasite that can be easily prevented by a once-a-month tablet. Heartworms differ from fleas and ticks in many ways, including what type of parasite they are, how they are transmitted, and how they cause disease. Heartworms are internal parasites that are transmitted by mosquitoes. When a mosquito bites your animal it transmits the heartworm larvae into the pet’s bloodstream where they then migrate through the body to the heart and the pulmonary artery and mature into adult worms. These adult worms block blood flow and can end up causing heart and lung disease and eventually death of the affected animal. Clinical signs include exercise intolerance, coughing, increased respiratory rate/effort, lethargy, etc. Treatment for heartworm infections is a very long and difficult process for your pet, requiring several courses of antibiotics, steroids, melarsomine injections, and 6-9 months of very strict crate rest. Additionally, this is a very expensive treatment plan and depending on the amount of worms causing the infection and their susceptibility to treatment, the first round of therapy is sometimes not enough to fully rid your pet of heartworms.


The severity and seriousness of this disease is why keeping your pet on a monthly preventative is essential. Your veterinarian will perform a heartworm test once a year to ensure your pet is negative before continuing their monthly tablet. This is due to the fact that if your pet is infected with larval-stage heartworms and they are given preventative medication, the heartworms’ death can cause an anaphylactic reaction in your pet which can kill them. One of the most common types of heartworm tests used in veterinary practices today also checks for tick-borne diseases as well, making it that much more valuable of a test for monitoring the health of your animal.  Although the presence of mosquitoes is more obvious during the warmer months of the year, it only takes one warm day in the winter-time for mosquitoes to come out and one mosquito bite to transmit heartworm larva to an animal, which is why year-round prevention is imperative to keeping your pet safe.


In the end, the diseases that are caused by fleas, ticks, and heartworms can be very serious if your pet becomes infected. That is why simple once a month preventatives go such a long way in protecting your furry friend from many life-threatening illnesses. If you have questions about heartworms, fleas, and ticks or are wondering what preventative may be the best choice for your pet, please contact your regular veterinarian. For more information about heartworm disease and incidence maps you can visit https://www.heartwormsociety.org/.




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