April is National Heartworm Prevention Month, so the AMCMA would like to take this time to talk about heartworms and other common warm weather parasites that could be a health risk for your pets, as well as treatment and preventative options.
Please keep in mind, all these parasites have something in common – prevention is much easier than treatment!
Heartworms are parasitic roundworms that are transmitted through mosquitos. An infected mosquito transmits heartworm larvae through their bite, which then grow into adult heartworms in the host’s body. In turn, adult heartworms then produce larvae which are released into the bloodstream. When a mosquito bites a heartworm-positive dog, the mosquito is infected, and the cycle continues. Left untreated, heartworms can cause a variety of health complications, including congestive heart failure and death.
Treatment of heartworm infection is possible and generally effective, but prevention is much easier on your pet and wallet. Heartworm disease can be prevented through the regular and appropriate use of preventive medications prescribed by a veterinarian. These medications are available as a once-a-month chewable, a once-a-month topical, or a bi-annual or annual injection.
A more common parasite, fleas are opportunistic and willing to feed on any warm-blooded animal. 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. Protected outdoor shady areas such as long grass and under bushes provide sanctuaries for fleas to await their next hosts. Using its extreme athleticism, the flea will then jump 100 times their height to land on an animal passing by.
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.
Another common parasite, the tick is an arachnid that that comprises about 900 different species which can be found in nearly all parts of the world. The species most commonly found on pets in the U.S. are the brown dog tick, deer tick, lone star tick, and the American dog tick. The primary concern with tick bites is their capability to transmit serious diseases, such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and more.
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.