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It’s about that time of year again, when the six-legged pests start emerging. While these insects are generally annoying, they can have significant health impacts on us and our beloved pets.

Fleas are a common problem we see. Fleas are tiny and fast-moving, making it difficult to see the little buggers, especially on pets with dense hair coats. However, it is easy to check for evidence of fleas – look for little black flecks (looks like black pepper flakes) on the skin, especially around the base of the tail. These flecks are flea dirt – a.k.a. flea poop. Not only can fleas make your pets incredibly itchy, but they can severely impact their health. Fleas take blood meals from our pet, and with heavy flea infestations, dogs and cats can become significantly anemic. Fleas also transmit diseases such as the plague, cat scratch fever, and tularemia (also known as rabbit or beaver fever). Contrary to popular belief, fleas can survive throughout the winter, even in the Midwest climate, granted, not in as large of numbers as we tend to see in the warmer months. At freezing temperatures, fleas can survive for 5 days, and they can ‘hibernate’ in the pupal stage for up to 30 weeks, or until they find a warm, suitable host to latch on to. Even if your pet’s paw never touches dirt, we can carry fleas and flea eggs inside to them on our shoes and clothing. We recommend year-round flea preventives for all pets in the home (indoor only and outdoor pets) to keep you and your pets safe. Ask us about what product is best for your pet.

Ticks are another problem that plague us and our furry companions. Not only are ticks gross, especially when they take a blood meal and get all bloated, but again, they can cause some serious problems for us and our pets. Like fleas, ticks can cause anemia and transmit numerous diseases, some of which can be deadly, especially if not caught quickly enough. There are dozens of species of ticks, and each species is a vector for different diseases; not all ticks carry and transmit the same diseases. The tick-borne disease most people have heard of is Lyme disease, however, many other bacterial and protozoal diseases are also transmitted by ticks, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, tularemia, and numerous others. Ticks can also cause a disease called tick paralysis; egg-laden female ticks can secrete a neurotoxin in their saliva that paralyzes the host she’s feeding on. The best way to keep your dogs and cats safe from tick-borne illnesses is to have them on a tick-preventive, preferably year-round, but at the very least March through November in the upper Midwest. Doing regular tick-checks on your pets is also recommended, especially for our thick-coated breeds. Ask us about what tick preventive product would be best for your pet.

Mosquitoes are another pest we frequently see, especially in the summer months. You guessed it, mosquitoes also carry several diseases that can impact our pets’ health, the most noteworthy of which is heartworm disease. Heartworm disease affects both dogs and cats, but we tend to see it more frequently in dogs. Just like it sounds, heartworms are parasites that flow through the bloodstream, then set up camp, and grow larger in the heart and blood vessels in the lungs. These worms cause problems for obvious reasons; they affect heart and lung function and blood flow. This can be a deadly disease, and the treatment is very expensive and can also be life-threatening. The best (and safest!) bet is prevention. While we don’t tend to see too many cases of heartworm disease in the upper Midwest, we do occasionally see cases, so we do recommend annual testing for heartworm disease (a simple blood test) and heartworm preventives, which can be as easy as giving one chewable tablet once a month! It is preferable to have your pet on a year-round heartworm preventive, but at the very least, March through November in the upper Midwest. Please talk with us about which heartworm preventive is best for your pet.
While many of these diseases are scary, they are also preventable! Please talk with us about how to keep your pet safe from these creepy crawlies and the diseases they carry!