The most common parasites affecting dog and cats are fleas and ticks. These multi-legged, tiny creatures don’t discriminate on a choice of host or home, quickly becoming a problem for the entire family.
Fleas and ticks will hide in your pet’s coat and enter your home undetected. Fleas are athletic jumpers launching from your pet into carpets, upholstery, bedding and clothing to plan their biting attack. Ticks, if they don’t latch onto your pet, can easily find their way onto you.
These parasites can carry very serious diseases, like Lyme disease, which can cause disease in humans too. Treating your dog or cat for a parasite infestation is challenging; preventing fleas and ticks from making your pet their new host is much easier and less costly.
The most common flea in the U.S. is the cat flea (a.k.a Ctenocephalides felis) but it has no problem taking up residence on dogs, birds, and humans too.
- Fleas can be difficult to control thanks to a complex life cycle, so it’s important to be consistent with on-going preventive treatments.
- They thrive in warm, moist conditions and climates. Fleas are known jumpers thanks to 3 pairs of legs and a flat body, helping them move around quickly.
- The total life cycle of a flea includes four stages and ranges from a couple of weeks to several months depending on environmental conditions.
Fleas are parasites by definition as they feast on the blood of a host animal—mainly dogs, cats and even humans. Flea saliva is the cause of the irritation and itching because its properties soften a host’s skin for easy penetration.
Talk to your veterinarian about the various methods of flea prevention and treatment including:
- oral medications
- topical treatments
- environmental controls
- medicated shampoos, and
Ticks are ectoparasites, which mean they live their entire lifecycle on the outside of the host. Various species of this tiny blood-sucking creature are found year-round throughout the U.S. Although they are more common in wooded and overgrown areas, a slight breeze or animals such as deer can carry them far and wide. Ticks can also be found on dogs and cats that spend most of their time indoors.
Infected ticks can transmit diseases from one host to another which means dogs, cats and people are susceptible. The bacteria are transferred from an infected tick to the pet through its bite.
Although these common tick-borne illnesses differ slightly, the range of symptoms and types of prevention and treatment are similar. Let’s look at each.
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the world. Bucks County, PA is in a Lyme endemic area. Diagnosis requires a review of your pet’s medical history, specific antibody testing through a blood sample, a complete blood chemistry profile and urinalysis, and possible testing of fluid from affected joints.
Like Lyme disease, anaplasmosis is a serious, even deadly, condition also carried by the deer tick and the western black-legged tick. There are two forms of canine anaplasmosis found throughout the United States:
- An infection of the white blood cells
- An infection of the blood platelets which can lead to bleeding disorders, which is more common in the southwestern states and along the Gulf Coast
Often dogs can be diagnosed with multiple infections like Lyme disease and anaplasmosis. This disease is not easily diagnosed and usually requires a complete analysis of blood and urine. In some cases, special testing for antibodies or anaplasmosis DNA in the bloodstream is necessary.
This bacterial infection is transmitted by infected brown dog ticks and lone star ticks. There are multiple forms of infection which present with different symptoms and levels of severity. A pet may have the disease for several years before reaching an often fatal chronic phase. The different forms of Ehrlichia affecting dogs include:
- An infection of the white blood cells which can affect bone marrow function and production of blood cells
- An infection of blood cells causing joint pain and lameness
Diagnosis is difficult and requires extensive lab work. Dogs with Ehrlichiosis can often have other tick-borne illnesses further complicating a diagnosis. There are acute, subclinical and chronic stages to this disease, each of which can present differently.
Rocky Mountain Spotted-Fever
This disease is caused by adult ticks carrying rickettsia parasites. It was first discovered at the beginning of the 20th century in the Rocky Mountain area but is found across the U.S. today. Much like Lyme disease and Ehrlichiosis, the illness occurs in several phases of increasing symptoms and severity.
The symptoms for each illness are very similar with slight variations depending on the specific disease or stage. Symptoms can be present within the first two weeks of the bite but could take up to several months to manifest. Mild to severe symptoms include:
- Lethargy and depression
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Joint pain and lameness
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the legs
- Abnormal bleeding and severe bruising of the skin and gums
- Sudden nosebleeds
- Possible neurological problems including seizures
- Kidney and liver disease are present in chronic cases
- Bloody urine
- Inflammation of the heart muscle can result in death
PREVENTION & TREATMENT
The best treatment for these common, tick-borne illnesses is prevention. Medical treatment can take weeks or months and a full recovery is not always possible. Antibiotics are given to treat all four diseases, with varying degrees of success, and improvement of symptoms is usually seen within a few days. However, especially with Lyme disease, on-going joint pain may require long-term pain management. For severe cases of Ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted-Fever, blood transfusions may be necessary.
- Applying regular doses of external spot-on treatments such as Frontline Plus or Vectra
- Inspecting your dog’s or cat’s coat for ticks each night, especially if you’ve been in a wooded area or walking through high grasses and brush
- Consulting with your veterinarian about identifying ticks, removing ticks, prevention, and knowing the symptoms
- Vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease!
“Lyme disease is endemic in many parts of the country. In our area, approximately 80% of the unvaccinated dogs we see are positive for Lyme disease. While no vaccine is 100% effective, vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease in areas in which it is prevalent is absolutely essential,” said Dr. Laura Weis of Doylestown Veterinary Hospital & Holiday House Pet Resort.
Parasites—such as heartworms, fleas and ticks—can easily invade unprotected dogs and cats making them very ill. Talk to your veterinarian about the best method of protection for your pet. For your convenience, our recommended oral and topical medications are sold at Doylestown Veterinary Hospital—ask our staff about available rebate specials from the manufacturers, making prevention the best treatment!