Now that we’re in the height of summer, a time when we are all enjoying the outdoors with our pets, it’s important to remember that the biting, stinging pests we encounter outside can be more than an annoyance—they can lead to debilitating and sometimes even deadly illnesses. Here are some tips on avoiding serious problems for you and your pet from Cascade Hospital for Animal’s resident bug expert, Dr. Greg Paplawsky.
If you’ve been noticing more of these frustratingly small parasites on your dog in recent summers, you’re not alone. “Ticks have been increasingly prevalent in Michigan over the past 5-10 years,” said Dr. Paplawsky. Thanks to public awareness campaigns since the late 1980s, most people are aware of the dangers to humans of Lyme disease, which is the most well-known and common tick-borne illness. It’s carried in North America by the tiny deer tick and in humans it can be a very serious problem, with the potential to lead to long-term chronic illness.
The good news for pet owners is that while the symptoms of Lyme disease affect about 80 percent of infected humans, dogs are affected at a much lower rate: about 90 percent of infected dogs will never see symptoms. Also, in the rare cases where the illness does show symptoms in dogs, it manifests much less severely than it does in humans. These symptoms can include arthritis signs and sometimes a fever. Most encouragingly, unlike in humans, Lyme disease in dogs generally clears up relatively quickly in response to antibiotic treatment.
All the same, it’s best to keep pests like ticks off your dogs before they burrow into the pet’s skin and begin feeding, becoming harder for you to remove. For your protection and theirs, “avoid wooded areas with tall grass and wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when walking in wooded areas,” says Dr. Paplawsky. Carefully check for ticks on yourself and your pet after enjoying the great outdoors.
Heartworm is a parasitic worm that enters a pet’s bloodstream from a mosquito bite. Most dog owners know they need to keep their pets on a monthly heartworm preventative—whether topical, oral, or injected—because the effects of heartworm disease can be devastating, even if not fatal. The purpose of the preventative is to destroy any larval heartworms that the dog may have acquired in the past month. Even though the preventatives are largely effective, it’s also important for us to regularly test your dog for heartworm. “It is still possible for an invading heartworm to build resistance to the preventatives,” said Dr. Paplawsky.
It’s also important to keep giving your dog heartworm preventative year-round, even though the persistent mosquito is mainly a threat in the summertime. One reason is that you’re human; keeping a regular year-round regimen will not only help you form the monthly, it will increase your dog’s chances of fighting infection in case you inadvertently skip a month during the high mosquito season. An even more compelling reason is that many heartworm preventatives also kill roundworms, tapeworms and other year-round parasites.
An ounce of prevention
In all cases, Dr. Paplawsky strongly believes in the adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Visit your vet on a regular basis and keep up-to-date on refills of your heartworm and tick preventative medications. “The consequences are far more expensive than the preventatives, and they save your dog a lot of potential suffering in the long-run,” said Dr. Paplawsky.
Need to stock up on your pet's preventative meds? Call our office at 616-949-0960 (Cascade Hospital for Animals) or 616-988-4980 (Breton Village Animal Clinic) to schedule an appointment, or use our Patient Portal!