You know that parasite prevention is important, but you may not realize the extent that these creatures can affect your vulnerable pet. Fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes can cause problematic skin conditions, infection by internal parasites, and debilitating diseases. Our team at WesVet Animal Hospital wants to answer some common questions to explain why every pet needs year-round parasite prevention.

Question: My pet lives indoors. Do they need parasite prevention?

Answer: Yes. Parasites can easily gain access to your house through cracked windows, open doors, or on your clothing. One interaction with a mosquito, flea, or tick can result in a serious disease. The only way to prevent this is by providing prevention medication to every pet.

Q: Does my pet need parasite prevention in the winter?

A: Yes. Fleas and ticks are more active in the summer, but they are not always dormant in the winter. They can hide under leaves and attach to your pet at an opportune moment. They may also escape the cold by camping out in your home. Mosquitoes typically hibernate or die once the temperature drops below 55 degrees, but they venture out on a warm day for a snack.

Q: Are fleas dangerous for my pet?

A: Fleas can be dangerous if you have a puppy, kitten, or geriatric pet. A heavy flea infestation can result not only in severe itchiness, but also severe anemia, which can lead to shock and death. Other problems that your pet may experience if they are not protected from fleas include flea bite allergies and tapeworms.

  • Flea bite allergies — Pets can be allergic to substances in the flea’s saliva. Signs include excessive scratching, chewing, and rubbing. Affected pets may also have crusty skin lesions and hair loss. The only way to resolve a flea bite allergy is to eradicate all fleas from your pet’s body and environment.
  • Tapeworms — Fleas can transmit tapeworms if your pet ingests a flea while grooming. Tapeworms attach to the lining of your pet’s small intestine to absorb nutrients. They do not usually cause severe illness, but pets with a heavy infection may lose weight. Your pet will need to be dewormed with appropriate medication.

Q: Are ticks dangerous for my pet?

A: Yes. Ticks transmit numerous tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis. These diseases can be extremely debilitating, but are hard to diagnose and treat. 

  • Lyme disease — Carried by the black-legged or deer tick, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection by Borrelia burgdorferi. Signs include fever, lethargy, and joint swelling and pain. Infection can progress and cause kidney failure.
  • Anaplasmosis — Carried by the black-legged tick, anaplasmosis is a bacterial infection by Anaplasma phagocytophilum. Signs include fever, lethargy, joint pain, and bleeding disorders.
  • Ehrlichiosis — Carried by the brown dog tick, lone star tick, and American dog tick, ehrlichiosis is a bacterial infection by Ehrlichia chaffeensis, E. ewingii, or E. muris. Signs include lethargy, fever, and bleeding disorders.

Since signs of tick-borne illnesses can be similar, and blood testing is not always reliable, diagnosis is usually made based on visible signs, a positive blood test, and treatment response. Treatment typically entails antibiotic therapy for at least four weeks. If the antibiotics are stopped before the recommended time, infection could recur.

Q: Are mosquitoes dangerous for my pet?

A: Yes. If an infected mosquito bites your pet, they will transmit larval heartworms that can cause severe damage to your pets heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Cats and dogs are affected differently.

  • Dogs — Since dogs are a natural host, heartworms can carry out their entire life cycle inside the dog. This can result in numerous worms affecting your dog. Initially, signs may be subtle or completely absent, but may progress to a mild but persistent cough, low energy levels, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As more worms block your dog’s heart, the organ will begin to fail, resulting in fluid accumulation in their abdomen. If a large amount of worms are present, a sudden blockage in blood flow may occur, resulting in respiratory distress, pale gums, and sudden collapse.
  • Cats — Cats are not natural hosts, but a single heartworm can cause significant damage to their small anatomy. Cats typically do not show signs until the infection has caused significant damage. Signs include difficulty breathing, weight loss, collapse, and sudden death.

A blood test can determine if your pet is affected by heartworms, and they should be tested at least once a year. This can be done at your pet’s annual wellness exam. Dogs will need careful monitoring during treatment, since life-threatening complications can arise. Unfortunately, no treatments are available for cats, making prevention critical.

Q: How do I protect my pet from parasites?

A: Several preventive options are available to ensure your pet is protected from parasites. The medications can be administered orally or by injection, monthly or at six month intervals. The team at WesVet Animal Hospital will be happy to help you determine which parasite prevention protocol is right for your pet.

Do not let your pet be affected by the numerous harmful conditions parasites can cause. Keep them protected all year long. If you would like to discuss parasite prevention for your pet, do not hesitate to contact our team at WesVet Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment.