Heartworms and fleas are two types of parasites that can affect our pets. One can prove fatal if not treated promptly, while the other can cause ongoing problems for your pet and your family as the parasites are notoriously hard to get rid of. Here is what you need to know about why protecting your pet against heartworms and fleas is so important, and what you can do to prevent either parasite from affecting your pet.
Heartworms are one of many different types of parasitic worm that can live inside our pets. Dogs make the most natural host for heartworms, but it isn’t unheard of for cats to contract them too. The worm larvae are spread via the bite of an infected mosquito, which transfers the larvae from host to host. Once they enter your pet’s bloodstream, the larvae will travel to the blood vessels of her heart and lungs where they will make their home.
It takes up to six months for heartworms to mature into adults that are then capable of reproducing themselves. During this time, they grow up to around a foot in length. In dogs, heartworms continue to reproduce until they are treated, and a canine may have between dozens and several hundred heartworms. Cats are slightly different, and most worms do not survive until the adult stage. A cat that does have adult heartworms will usually have three or less. However, they are still adversely affected by their presence and since there is no treatment for cats, prevention is even more essential.
The initial symptoms of heartworms are fairly mild, and this misleads some inexperienced owners into thinking that their pet until she becomes significantly affected, However, by this time there is almost certainly considerable damage to her arteries, heart, and lungs which will become clogged by the increasing numbers of worms present in them. Eventually, heart failure and coma are unavoidable, and the vast majority of dogs left untreated for heartworms will die. Cats can develop a severe respiratory condition called heartworm associated respiratory disease.
Heartworm preventatives are essential if you wish to protect your pet from this potentially deadly parasite. These are given in combination with regular heartworm testing which checks for the presence of immature heartworms. Annual testing is recommended for all dogs, even when on heartworm prevention as this will ensure that the treatment being given is working. There are numerous different types of preventative available, and these range from monthly pills and topical medications to injections, all of which work by eliminating heartworms at the larval stage before they become adults. As with any preventative, your chosen heartworm treatment must be given on a strict schedule. Even being just a few days late could enable heartworms to reach the juvenile stage, for which preventative medications are not effective.
Many people think that fleas are an unavoidable part of pet ownership, but this is certainly not the case. These tiny parasites may look harmless – if you can spot them – but their ability to reproduce at an unprecedented rate means that a few fleas can quickly become a huge infestation that will put your pet at risk of anemia, flea allergy dermatitis and other parasites carried by the fleas themselves, including tapeworms. Fleas will also bite humans in your home. Their bite contains toxins that make the skin extremely itchy and this can be unpleasant and debilitating for humans and animals living in your home.
One of the most difficult things about fleas is just how hard they are to get rid of. They must be eliminated at every stage of their lifecycle, meaning that you will need to treat and remove everything from the live fleas to their eggs, which are impossible to see with the naked eye and can lurk in the tiniest of crevices. Under furniture, between carpet fibers, in cracks in the floorboards and in soft furnishings are some of the places in which fleas and their larvae and eggs lurk.
Fortunately, there are many different types of flea preventatives, many of which are combined with protection against other parasites, such as ticks and mites. Again, they are available in a range of different application methods, from spot-on treatments to collars and tablets. Your veterinarian will be able to help you find the best one for your furbaby. And, just like other preventatives, they must be given on a strict schedule to ensure that your pet remains adequately protected. In addition to using preventatives on your furbaby, you should also make sure that you keep your home as clean as possible and vacuum regularly. You can also purchase products specifically designed to repel fleas from your home.
If you would like more advice about heartworms and fleas and why prevention is so important, please reach out to our experienced veterinary team at Lone Oak Animal Clinic in Paducah, KY who will be delighted to help you 270-554-0385.