Here in Kansas City, we keep flirting with spring before winter tightens its icy fingers around us one more time.
Still, just a couple of days of warm weather is all it takes to awaken the parasite parade. That includes fleas and ticks, but also some others we don’t hear that much about.
As scary as parasites can be, there are some relatively easy ways to protect your pets. Before we get into those, let’s take a little deeper dive into what’s lurking around out there.
Fleas, Mosquitoes, and Ticks, Oh My!
Spend a few minutes living in the KC area and you’ll know all about mosquitoes. Especially once the spring rains leave plenty of standing water around. They’re a lot like fleas in that they keep coming back for more.
“Fleas and mosquitoes can repeatedly bite dogs and cats, causing skin issues and pain,” says Dr. Zach Miller, a veterinarian for Bayer. “The bites can also open the door for hair loss and bacterial infections. It that’s not enough, fleas can transmit cat scratch fever and tapeworms, while mosquitoes can infect our pets with heartworm disease.”
Heartworm is serious business, too. Like real serious. It causes illness and death if left untreated, according to Elise Kelly, regional consulting veterinarian for Elanco Companion Animal Health. “The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) reported 3,845 cases of heartworm positive dogs in Missouri and Kansas alone,” she says. “The CAPC estimates that this number only represents about 30 percent of the actual positive cases in our area,” Dr. Kelly adds.
The Unseen Stuff
Of course, there’s also hookworms and roundworms, which can cause bloody diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration, even death in dogs when the case is severe enough. “Even scarier,” adds Dr. Kelly, “roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted to people from our pets.”
Scary indeed. And those infections can happen pretty easily, says Bayer’s Dr. Miller. “Dogs and cats can become infected … just by doing everyday dog and cat things such as hunting rodents and rabbits, digging in the dirt, eating grass, and even grooming,” he says.
Caution: Tick-Borne Illnesses Ahead
While all parasites can pass along disease, one in particular deserves special attention since it’s a burgeoning and serious threat: ticks. And, sure, heartworm infection, which is passed from mosquitoes, is deadly serious, but tick-borne disease is registering some of the highest rates of infection here in our area. Cases of Ehrlichiosis and Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis are being reported more in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma than many other places around the country, according the Elanco’s Dr. Kelly. “While Lyme disease is probably the most well-known,” she says, “the vast majority of Lyme disease cases are reported in the Northeast and Upper Midwest.”
Dr. Miller adds that tick-borne illnesses are becoming more prevalent all over.
Symptoms, says Dr. Kelly, include depression, fever, painful joints, decreased appetite, and will also affect the blood and internal organs. For people, symptoms are similar but also include a rash.
There is good news for cat owners. They aren’t susceptible to many diseases that ticks cause in dogs, says Bayer’s Dr. Miller. They are, however, susceptible to Cytauxzoonosis, which is “unfortunately often fatal for cats,” he adds.
Both doctors agree that it’s nearly impossible to prevent parasites from getting on and inside our pets, there are steps to take to dramatically reduce the chances.
Dr. Miller suggests:
- Keep yards and paths trimmed and tidy as ticks love to crawl up overgrown grass, bushes, and shrubbery to cling onto pets as they pass by. Fleas thrive in shady spots of overgrowth as well.
- Avoid known tick-infested areas such as woods or grass fields.
- Regularly inspect your dog’s or cat’s coat for fleas and ticks, especially during spring, summer, and fall months.
- Use flea and tick prevention to help protect your pet. Bayer makes topical products such as long-lasting, odor-free, and non-greasy Seresto® Flea and Tick collar for dogs and cats, and Advantage Multi flea, internal parasite, and heartworm prevation, both available here at SNKC. They also make K9 Advantix® flea, tick, and mosquito prevention for dogs, and Advantage® II flea prevention for cats, which we don’t sell at SNKC.
Dr. Kelly adds that, “looking how we treat and control flea and tick infestations, oral medications are commonly prescribed by veterinarians,” she says. “These oral products work fast, are safe and effective, but they require the flea and tick to bite in order to work. Pets can be exposed to parasites almost anywhere, the most important thing a pet owner can do is follow the advice of their veterinarian and administer monthly heartworm, flea, and tick products as directed.”
Clean Up After Your Pet
Finally, make sure to pick up after your dog (or cat if you walk yours) when they go to the bathroom outdoors. It’s not only courteous, says Dr. Miller, but also can help keep pets healthy. “Eggs from tapeworms, whipworms, and other parasites can be in a pet’s stool. When those eggs make contact with the ground, they disperse and can spread into soil and grass.”
We’re Here to Help
Of course, we offer preventative products and also heartworm testing, which is important to do before your pet is given heartworm prevention. Beyond that, we want to be a resource for the community, to help people keep their pets healthy and happy. So if you have questions about your pet and their health, we’re a place to turn for information and support. Just give us a call or stop by.