By: Dr. Courtney Sherlock

Now that the weather is finally warming up, we need to start thinking about how to best protect our furry family members from those pesky parasites that like to invade our home and bother our pets.

Fleas are those tiny, black, jumping bugs that live on our pet’s skin and in our carpets. They are the most common external parasite of companion animals. They feed on blood by biting our pets, causing severe itching and often times extreme allergies. Flea allergy dermatitis is one of the most common skin diseases that we see in both dogs and cats. Another serious concern with fleas is called anemia and that is when a small/young animal is so severely infested that they have lost enough blood to cause significant health problems. This is an emergency situation.

Fleas can have a lifecycle that is as short as 16 days – which means that several fleas can turn into an infestation in less than three weeks! When one flea is seen on your pet, it means that more adult fleas are likely within the fur and that many eggs can be present in the environment. Once fleas lay their eggs on the animal’s hair coat, the eggs fall off almost immediately and live in the environment for many months. Eggs may take up residence within your carpet, blankets or on your pets favorite bed. Once the eggs turn to larvae and hatch, they will reattach to your pet and begin biting and the cycle begins again.

The typical flea season is Spring, Summer and Fall with the most highly concentrated period of fleas in our area being August and September. But unfortunately, with our recent warm winters, we are seeing many active flea infestations right now!

Fleas can be controlled using several methods including; tablets, topical treatments or injections. The majority of treatments are given once a month for both dogs and cats. It is essential to treat ALL animals in the house if you see fleas on even one animal because fleas will jump from one host to another and do not discriminate between cats and dogs. It is best to consult with your veterinary clinic to discuss which flea prevention method is best suited to your pets needs. Don’t forget – products sold off the shelves in stores do not have prescription medications and are quite often TOXIC to cats!

Heartworms are another serious consideration for this time of year. These parasites are transmitted through mosquito bites. The worms can grow to be 14 inches long and they live within the heart and major arteries of both dogs and cats. Mosquitoes transmit the worm larvae by biting infected animals and then biting unprotected animals.

Symptoms of heartworm disease include; breathing difficulties, bloody nose, coughing, pneumonia, and exercise intolerance. This disease is quite often fatal, especially when left untreated. Some animals are at higher risk than others and these animals are ones that travel to heartworm endemic areas (such as areas within theUnited States) and immunocompromised animals.

There is a simple blood test that will test for heartworm positive animals. It is recommended that you check for a positive result in all adult animals that have never had heartworm treatment previously. If you use a heartworm prevention treatment as prescribed, then a heartworm test is recommended every two-three years. It is always recommended that any animals traveling to warm, humid areas be tested for heartworm upon their return. Fortunately the Maritimes do not see a lot of heartworm cases, but with our changing climate we do not want to underestimate this parasite. There are several methods of heartworm prevention and these include; tablets, topical treatment and injections. The majority of parasite prevention medication comes in a combination package that will prevent fleas, heartworms and intestinal worms also. But, there are many options and it is best to call your veterinary clinic to discuss how you can best protect your pet!