External parasites refers to parasites that colonize and invade the skin and hair coat – including fleas, ticks, mites and lice. While these types of parasites are known to cause direct disease to the skin and hair coat that must not be minimized (itchiness and infections of the skin can be both tormenting for the pet and dangerous), an even greater danger lies in these parasites acting as vectors for the spread of disease. Mosquitos, fleas, and ticks are the biggest menace in the spread of serious diseases.
Mosquitos are best known for their role in infecting canines and felines with heartworm disease. However, for fleas and ticks, the danger is becoming ever greater, with emerging variants of insect vector-borne disease becoming able to be spread by either insect species, with other new variants that we still have not yet developed reliable testing to diagnose.
For example, it used to be that insect vector-borne diseases were typically associated with one particular insect species, even one particular variant within an insect species. The deer tick was associated with Lyme disease, the brown dog tick with Ehrilichia, and the Dermacentor tick species (American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick) with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The most dangerous disease that fleas carry is called Bartonella, which can cause a number of different syndromes in cats, and Cat Scratch Fever in people.
I just returned from the North American Veterinary Conference, where I picked up some very alarming information regarding insect-borne diseases in the U.S. The first concerning fact is that emerging tick-borne infection variants are crossing tick host species. For example, there is now a variant of the organism responsible for Lyme disease that is showing up in the American dog tick, and there is a variant of the organism responsible for causing Rocky Mountain Spotted fever in one (and possibly two) additional tick species. There is evidence that Bartonella is not just spread by fleas, but also by ticks and mosquitos.
We have known for quite some time that Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted fever can infect people. However, we are seeing variants of Ehrlichia, previously not commonly associated with humans, now infecting people.
So what does all this mean? For starters, that previously regional diseases are now becoming more geographically widespread. More concerning, these diseases seem to be increasing in their ability to infect people, increasing the danger our human population, especially the very young, very old, and those who are immune compromised. It is crucial that you protect your family by treating your pets with veterinary grade external parasites protection. We are fortunate to have access to an unprecedented number of safe and effective product options.
Please do not make the mistake of feeling complacent because you currently do not see pests on your pets. I cannot tell you how often I comb fleas out of a pet or pick out ticks less than one minute after the owner assured me that the reason he or she does not administer flea and tick prevention is because the pet NEVER gets fleas or ticks.
Why wait until there is an infestation and possible serious disease to treat your pet? Waiting until there is a major problem makes as much sense as waiting until your dog gets bitten by a rabid raccoon to get him a rabies vaccine. Ask your veterinarian the most effective products and protocols to protect your pets before you have a major infestation or insect-borne disease in your home.