Keep your pet happy and healthy this spring

Spring is just around the corner. It’s time to take preventative measures and start thinking about controlling the creepy-crawly critters that your pet can acquire. These include fleas, ticks, heartworms, roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, tapeworms and coccidia. These bugs are all prevalent in our area and can cause serious harm to your pets’ health.

Fleas can be very difficult to control and can cause blood loss, skin irritation, skin allergies and secondary infections. Fleas can transmit tapeworms and various other diseases to cats and dogs. Fleas have become more prevalent and can live in your house through the winter laying hundreds of eggs each day in your pet’s bedding, on your furniture, and in your carpets ready to hatch and infest your pet. Even if your pet is strictly an indoor pet, they can still acquire fleas and they will find a way into your house! We recommend treating your pet year-round with a good flea control product. When fleas are a problem in your home, it may take up to three months or more to get the infestation under control. Ask your veterinarian what the best product is for your pet.

Ticks are most commonly acquired in early spring and late fall but your pet can also be infected through any of the warmer months and anytime there is a “winter thaw.” Just recently, in the middle of January on one of the milder days, my dog Chili came home from one of our hikes with a deer tick attached to her head vigorously taking in a good blood meal. Ticks are responsible for transmitting various diseases to your dogs including Lyme disease and ehrlichia. Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria transmitted through the tick bite that can cause acute arthritis, fever and kidney disease. It can turn into a chronic disease with recurrent bouts of arthritis, kidney failure, and heart disease, all very serious illnesses. Ways to prevent Lyme disease include a yearly Lyme vaccine and tick prevention. Many monthly flea products are combined with a tick control medication. We recommend a tick control product from early spring (March) through late fall (November) and year-round when our winters are mild. I have changed my protocol with my own dogs and now am doing yearly Lyme vaccines and year round monthly flea and tick control.

Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes and can invade your pets’ heart and lungs. Heartworm disease is not as prevalent in our area as it is in the warmer states, but there are reservoirs of infected dogs in our community. These dogs are responsible for transmitting heartworm disease to other dogs through the bite of mosquitoes. Signs may not be noticeable until the disease is more progressed when your pet develops symptoms of heart failure. Treatment is very expensive and can be prolonged and difficult on your pet. Your pet may be in heart failure for the rest of their lives. Prevention is key with heartworm disease. A monthly preventative either in pill form or a topical treatment should be given to your pet year round as these preventatives also help protect against intestinal parasites. We highly recommend a yearly blood test to rule out heartworm disease due to the fact that no medication is 100 percent effective, and it can be dangerous to start preventative medication if your pet is already positive for heartworm disease.

Intestinal parasites are prevalent in our area and can be diagnosed with a simple stool test. You may not physically see the worms in your pets’ stool, as many of the parasites are microscopic and need to be diagnosed by finding the eggs in our lab. It is important to check a sample at least yearly because intestinal parasites can survive our cold winters and cause severe illness in your pet including blood loss, diarrhea and dehydration, and malnutrition. Roundworms and hookworms can be transmitted to people, especially children, so it is very important to keep your pet parasite free. Giving them a monthly heartworm preventative will help protect your pet from some of these parasites. Giving them over the counter products without checking a fecal may not help control parasites in your pet, because some of these parasites can only be treated with a prescription dewormer and can also have different life cycles that need varying intervals between treatments.

For the month of March, our clinic is offering 10 percent off if you purchase your heartworm preventative and have a heartworm/lyme test done. We are also offering 10 percent off the heartworm/Lyme test and Lyme vaccine for your pet. Call us for more information about keeping your pets and your family safe from these creepy crawlies.

Dr. Rebekah Frost is a veterinarian at the Dunkirk Animal Clinic. Send comments on this column to lifestyles@observertoday.com