We all love spring time. The weather warms, daylight hours increase, new plant life and leaves on trees begin to grow, our lawns begin to thrive again, and all of our spirits just rise with more time outdoors and the world around us teaming with life. Indeed, it is a time to celebrate and feel lucky to be alive, however, with regard to our dogs and cats, we need to be careful about dangers that spring time brings with it.
The first and most prevalent of all dangers is external parasites, namely, fleas and ticks. Fleas and ticks do not only cause direct irritation of skin through their bites, irritation that can become severe and result in secondary hair loss and skin infections, but they also spread disease. In both dogs and cats, fleas can transmit the microscopic larvae of a species tapeworm that infects the gut causing GI disturbance and ill thrift from nutrient leaching.
In cats, fleas can transmit a dangerous bacteria known as Bartonella. Bartonella can manifest in many different forms of disease, including infections and ulcerations of the mouth, respiratory infection, and urinary tract infection to name a few. Feline carriers of certain strain of Bartonella may transmit Cat Scratch Fever to humans susceptible to it. Cat Scratch Fever is capable of causing a potentially severe disease complex in certain people. Even if you have a a gentle kitty not prone to scratching out of fear or intolerance, cat scratches still occur all the time that are not necessarily intentional, such as when a kitty may be on one’s lap and gets startled and jumps off.
While dogs and cats will not contract disease, fleas are carriers of Yersinia Pestis, the bacteria responsible for the Black Plague, making flea infestations on our dogs and cats a danger to the human members of the family. A small but still troubling number of people contract plague each year, with young children and the elderly being the most susceptible.
Ticks can transmit a number of serious bacterial infections in dogs, including Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Ehrlichiosis. These diseases cause a number of severe disease manifestations including severe fever, muscle and joint pain, severe listlessness and death if left untreated. In cats ticks can transmit a blood parasite called Hemobartonella, which can lead to anemia, sometimes severe in nature.
With warming weather and increased spring rains comes a resurgence of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are not just pests due to the sting and subsequent irritation the stings leave on the skin, but they transmit mircofilaria, the infective larval stage of deadly heartworm disease in dogs and cats. While dogs are the definitive host where the larvae mature to adult heartworms that colonize the right side of the heart, heartworm infection can reach a semi-mature stage of larval development in cats that can lead to chronic inflammatory airway disease and dangerous clot formations.
Warm weather and precipitation also awaken dormant forms of all manners of intestinal parasites that infect dogs and cats, from protozoal parasites like coccidia and giardia, to worm parasites, like hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms. These parasites cause diarrhea, cramping, ill thrift from leaching of nutrients, and possible dangerous structural and vascular disease of the GI tract in dogs and cats. Roundworms can be transmitted to people as well, posing a danger to small children, the elderly, and immune suppressed people (congenital poor immune system, cancer patents, HIV patients, etc.). In these individuals, roundworms can reach a larval stage that can travel in skin tissue causing severe irritation and itchiness. They can also reach an ocular migration state in young children, where they migrate to eyes and cause blindness, a potential tragedy for children aged infant to up to 5 years of age.
Pet owners can easily see that, while spring time heralds in a more enjoyable time and quality of life for both pets and people, there are hidden dangers that call for vigilance and precaution. Luckily, veterinary medicine offers an array of preventive solutions to keep your pets and family safe this warm weather season.
For prevention of flea, ticks, heartworm disease, and intestinal parasites, the veterinary industry offers an array of topical and oral products that effectively prevent these pesky and potentially dangerous pests. Veterinary pharmaceutical companies like Elanco and Pfizer have pioneered “all in one” preventive products that cover against multiple external and internal parasites. However, be certain to ask your veterinarian before purchasing any parasite preventives, as not all are created equal with regard to safety and effectiveness. Pet store grade products can be especially ineffective and even dangerous for your pets.
Yearly to semi yearly heartworm blood screening and stool analysis for intestinal parasite screening are an essential component to keeping your pets and family safe. These simple and inexpensive diagnostics enable early screening of parasitic infestations that give us the opportunity to have them treated before pets become very ill or members of the human family are at serious risk. Most importantly, a comprehensive relationship with your family veterinarian will keep you and your family current on pet disease risk in your geographic area, as well as kept informed of the most current modalities to treat for and prevent them.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL and founder/CEO of Web-DVM.net.