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Pet Talk - Ladue News: Special Features

Pet Talk

August 21, 2009

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Posted: Thursday, August 20, 2009 12:00 am

Unbelievably, it’s already the middle of summer—the time of year that creepy, crawly, parasitic insects strike fear in the homes of pet owners. Fleas and ticks, mosquitos and flies, oh my…not only are these bugs a nuisance, some can spread serious illness.

Biting flies are not nearly the problem they were years ago, when dogs spent a lot more time outside than they do today. Sure, your house-bred pup might get a few fly bites, but the ‘fly strike’ victims we used to see are scarce now. Biting flies can create real havoc with infection, pain and bleeding when your dog stays outside a majority of the time. If so, you will need to get insect repellent made for dogs (it usually comes in a gel form) to protect the most often targeted area: the tips of the ears.

Mosquitoes present another biting bugaboo for dogs and cats, especially at certain stages of a St. Louis summer. Spreaders of West Nile Virus, mosquitoes also transmit the disease known as heartworm. A life cycle stage of heartworm larvae can evolve in a mosquito, and when that mosquito bites a dog unprotected by heartworm preventives, it injects the larvae into the bite wound. That larvae eventually finds its way to the heart as an adult, reproducing worm.

Fortunately, most owners keep their dogs on heartworm preventives. You should continue prevention year round, since a few nice days in January can certainly bring out the mosquitoes in our town. There is an indirect benefit for your pup from all this vigilance: Because so many dogs in the neighborhood are on preventives, if yours misses a dose or two, he still may be protected by default. Why? There is no longer a large pool of heartworm-positive pets for mosquitoes to spread this disease. Outdoor cats also can be protected with monthly preventives, and some monthly flea and tick preventives have mosquito-repellent qualities too, for even more protection.

Fleas are another annoyance for pet owners. They are prolific reproducers that can spread blood parasites through their bloodsucking bites. As much as our pets seem to hate fleas, owners’ aversion to them borders on the hysterical.

An adult flea can produce a quarter-million pre-adult fleas in 30 days!  These may, in turn, become adult fleas in as little as two weeks, or they can take six months or longer, according to some researchers. So you may end up with a flea infestation in the middle of February that started with those fleas you found in October. To fight them, you must understand their life cycle. Be careful when you arbitrarily decide it’s the right season to start or stop flea preventives.

Which brings us to ticks. Far more ubiquitous in recent years than in the past, ticks must be controlled with vigilance. They are capable of spreading serious disease that can result in suffering, costly diagnostics and treatment, and even death. Ticks are responsible for the transmission of three dangerous diseases: Lyme, Ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The primary goal in prevention is to make sure the ticks don’t attach to your dog or cat, which is how they spread disease.

Prevention of ticks and some tick-borne illnesses can be simple, as long as you remember that, when it comes to prevention, you get what you pay for. Products like Advantix and Frontline are far superior to cheaper monthly preventives. If a tick gets attached, removal should be similarly uncomplicated.  Just find where the tick has attached and gently pull outward until you extract the culprit.  Do your best to avoid squeezing tick saliva into the wound. You also may consider preventing Lyme’s disease with a vaccination if your animals are particularly susceptible to ticks. Innsbrook, Busch Wildlife Area, Babler State Park, and Lake of the Ozarks are tick heavens.

The lesson here: Always be vigilant in the war against those tiny bloodsuckers out to attack your four-legged best friends.

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