Heartworm, Flea & Tick Prevention

Posted In: Feline Health & Wellness, Canine Health & Wellness, Heartworm Disease

As the weather starts getting warmer, it’s important to be aware of health risk factors for your pet that come along with it! It is ALWAYS important to keep up with your pet’s flea, tick, & heartworm prevention year-round, but as insects and carriers of these parasites start to return in the spring, and with pets spending more time outdoors, now is the time to act if you’ve let your pet’s preventatives lapse.

Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) is a parasitic roundworm that is found globally and is considered endemic to the continental United States and is generally transmitted through mosquito bites. An infected mosquito transmits heartworm larvae through their bite, which then grow into adult heartworms in the host’s body which infest the pulmonary artery and right heart. In turn, adult heartworms produce larvae which are released into the bloodstream, so that mosquitos who bite the host will then carry their larvae, perpetuating the cycle. Left untreated, heartworms can cause a variety of health complications to their hosts, including congestive heart failure and death.

 Click here to learn more about preventing and treating heartworm in your pets.

There are several types of fleas.  Fleas, while opportunistic and willing to feed on any warm-blooded mammal they encounter, have feeding preferences.  Fleas are categorized by the species of animal that they prefer to feed on.  The most commonly occurring flea species is: Ctenocephalides felis, or the cat flea. Fleas only spend about 5% of their lifestyle on a host (pet).  Most commonly, your pet will pick up fleas from a contaminated environment, where flea infested animals have stopped to rest, depositing eggs and adult fleas, and where juvenile fleas have developed. Fleas can survive for up to 3 months waiting for a host to arrive to provide the flea next blood meal. Fleas are very athletic, jumping 100 times their height allowing them to jump onto pets passing by. Protected outdoor shady areas such as long grass and under bushes provide sanctuaries for fleas to await their next hosts.

Since dogs are highly social animals, anywhere that they are in close proximity to other dogs, cats and any other mammals has the potential to spread fleas- such as the dog park, other peoples’ homes & yards, or just about anywhere outdoors- which is why preventative measures are so important. Each female flea can lay 30-60 eggs per day, which can then spread from your pet to your furniture, carpet, etc. which can take weeks or even months to fully eradicate from your living space. It is much more effective to prevent them proactively. Because of the previously mentioned flea feeding preferences, most dogs acquire the cat flea and bring them home. If there is a cat in the household, the fleas will seek out the cat and feed more heavily on the cat.

There are a multitude of flea prevention medications available to keep your dog flea-free. Pet parents should work with their veterinarian to determine the flea prevention method that is most suited for that particular pet’s lifestyle, age, weight, and other risk factors... All pets in the household need to be on flea preventatives.  In addition, regular cleaning & vacuuming of the home.  Additionally discouraging wildlife from sharing access to places your pet has access to, as well as keeping the grass mowed in your yard can help to reduce the risk of flea infestation.

Another common parasite for domestic pets is the tick. Ticks are a parasitic arachnid that are part of the mite superorder Parasitiformes, and comprise about 900 different species which can be found in nearly all parts of the world. The species most commonly found on pets in the United States are the Brown Dog Tick, Deer Tick, Lone Star Tick, and the American Dog Tick. Ticks tend to be more prevalent in dogs than cats, mostly because dogs are more likely to go into ticks’ habitat (wooded areas, tall grasses, etc.), but they do affect cats as well. The primary concern with tick infestation is their propensity for transmitting serious diseases, such as Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis, Bartonellosis, and Hepatozoonosis.

Most serious tickborne diseases do not have widely available vaccines, which is why it’s very important to prevent ticks from infesting your pet on the front end. There are oral medications, topical treatments, collars, and shampoos, each designed to address specific needs and lifestyle factors for your pet, so it’s best to discuss this with your veterinarian to determine the prevention method that’s best.

The Animal Medical Center of Mid-America has veterinarians at three locations that can answer questions about your pet’s health. Call 314-951-1534 or click here to request an appointment online.