From a tactical standpoint, every spring brings the promise of an attack from an enemy force. This spring the enemy will largely remain unseen. In the interest of Public Health, we must advise the community that we anticipate a high risk of fleas and other parasites this year (particularly in the spring & monsoon season). Growing up in the Prescott community I never thought that we would have such pests, that it was impossible to have such a thing here in Paradise. Each spring, combined with the potential for an El Nino year we expect you or your critters to encounter a large number of parasites. However, since most these issues are microscopic and easily prevented you likely won’t be hearing about it in the news cycle.
There are a wide variety of parasites, both internal and external in Yavapai County and Arizona that pose a potential health risk to your pets. Many people are offended by the suggestion that their pets might have worms or fleas. They don’t realize that all cats and dogs are very susceptible. Dogs, especially, get worms because of their animal behaviors like sniffing and licking disgusting things. They walk in the environment, pick up microscopic eggs, then lick their feet ingesting the eggs and even lick your face. Our pets often hunt, kill, and eat birds, rodents and rabbits even in our own backyards. They eat rabbit poop and roll in raccoon droppings just for fun. Almost ALL wildlife are hosts to parasites, and the parasite eggs can survive for long periods of time in the grass or soil – waiting for a pet to come along and pick them up.
The most common external parasite of dogs and cats in North America is the flea (Ctencephalides felis). Yes, Prescott does indeed have fleas. This is because we have a diverse topography with bodies of water and we live mobile lifestyles. Fleas actually can be rather fascinating. They are one nature’s more resilient species; one of those that could survive a nuclear holocaust along with the cockroaches. An infestation with fleas can result in a number of problems for pets, including itching, hair loss, anemia, and tapeworms. When a flea bites a pet, they cause an itchy allergic reaction that can become quite severe. Also fleas are the definitive host for the Tapeworm, and a pet with fleas has a high chance of having a tapeworm infestation. That’s why it’s so much better to prevent fleas than to wait until an infestation occurs.
The most common tick species here is the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus). Ticks carry several serious diseases, including Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted-Fever, and Anaplasmosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), half of all U.S. states reported more than 500 Lyme-positive dogs. We routinely screen pets for these issues at least every 2 years with a blood parasite test. The CDC actually monitors these diseases because of the potential crossover into the human world. Dogs and cats encounter ticks in their natural environment. These diseases ticks carry can easily be prevented by yearlong tick prevention.
Heartworm is a disease driven by mosquitoes, and there are 1 million new canine heartworm cases in the United States each year. Heartworm disease has slowly spread north from its origin in the southeastern United States and is now found in every one of the 50 states. Heartworms migrate from a mosquito bite site to the chambers of the heart. They can cause blockage of blood flow through the heart and can lead to death. You can easily prevent heartworm with current preventatives. It is recommended that even on prevention to have your pet tested for heartworm every other year to monitor for resistance.
Protecting the pet means protecting the family, too. A number of roundworms & hookworms are zoonotic, which means they affect humans too. Roundworm eggs are often deposited in the places where children play, increasing the risk for children and visiting grandchildren. Over 1 million people – mostly children – contract roundworms every year causing blindness and abdominal pain. Cockroaches and other household pests are known to carry hookworms. Hookworms can migrate in human skin make people very ill. In dogs and cats, these intestinal parasites cause gastrointestinal disease to include vomiting, diarrhea, intestinal blockage and weight loss.
In the past treatments and prevention of these parasites were not very safe. We, as consumers tend to think if a product is available at the grocery store, it’s safe but that is not always true. Unfortunately the EPA receives thousands of reports of adverse reactions and even deaths yearly from over-the-counter parasite products. Each generation of these products is safer, more effective and easier to administer than the previous one. Through a prescription by your veterinarian specified to your animal’s weight, you can be assured the safest and most effective flea, tick, heartworm and other parasite prevention available. Currently, in our practice we offer both topical and oral preventatives for these parasites. We recommend either Sentinel or Heartgard for heartworm and intestinal parasites in combination with either topical Frontline Plus or oral Bravecto for fleas and ticks. Using these measures year round we can keep our pets and families together and safer.
Cameron S. Dow, DVM
Prescott Animal Hospital