Is it any wonder that we worry about our 4-legged furry friends so much!
The following report may be a little gruesome for some, but is something important to know if you own a dog, irrespective of whether it is a house dog or an avid adventurer.
Adult heartworms look like strands of cooked spaghetti, with males reaching about
4 to 6 inches in length and females reaching about 10 to 12 inches in length. The number of worms living inside an infected dog is called the worm burden.
Heartworm is a parasitic worm that can infect your pet through a mosquito bite. An infected mosquito injects a larval stage of the worm under your pet’s skin.
The larvae of heartworms mature in the pet’s organs for approximately six months, navigating through the body and setting up home in the heart and blood vessels of the lungs.
These adult worms then breed to produce microfilaria (baby heartworm) in the bloodstream which are then drawn up by a mosquito when it feeds on the pet, hence continuing the cycle once again.
Mosquitoes are hard to keep out of both the yard and house, so even your indoor-only pets are at risk.
What are the signs of heartworm?
Initially, it’s difficult to tell if anything is wrong with your pet. Heartworm is a slow onset disease, so months or even years may pass before you will see any signs.
When symptoms do appear, your canine companion could have a large heartworm burden.
Worms interfere with the function of the heart valves, interfering with the blood flow, and causing the blood vessels that lead to the lungs to become ‘blocked’ with worms. This puts the heart under immense strain, where it can become enlarged and exhausted.
Early signs include shortness of breath, loss of stamina, or a nagging, dry cough. As the disease progresses, breathing becomes more difficult, and in severe cases the abdomen may swell with fluid. Your dog could become lethargic and lose weight and their appetite. These symptoms are often subtle and hard to detect, so prevention is the best option.
Treatment for heartworm disease is not without potential risk and may be difficult, and if left untreated, it is nearly always fatal.
If you suspect Heartworm has infected your dog, you must take them to your trusted vet as soon as possible.
Prevention is always better than cure
Important! If your dog has not had heartworm medication for more than six months, a blood test is necessary before you can commence preventative treatment, just to make sure they don’t already have heartworm.
*Allergic reactions to heartworm treatments have been identified, and some of the treatments can have serious side-effects, so staying on the safe side and keeping your pet up-to-date with their heartworm prevention is strongly recommended.
There are around 75 different species of ticks in Australia, but the most common are the brown tick and the deadly paralysis tick. The paralysis tick is by far the most dangerous parasite when it comes to your pet. It is commonly found in bushy coastal areas along the East Coast of Australia, from North Queensland to Eastern Victoria. Ticks are most prevalent from spring to autumn, but can occur at any time of year.
Ticks attach to pets anywhere so check their ears, back legs, between their toes and under their tail, although they are more common from the shoulders forward.
When paralysis ticks attach to our pets, they inject a neurotoxin which causes progressive paralysis, respiratory depression, and if not treated, these animals will succumb to the deadly affects of tick toxin.
What does the paralysis tick look like?
Paralysis ticks can be identified by their grey body and legs close to the head. Their legs are the feature which best distinguishes them from other ticks that occur in the same regions. Paralysis ticks have one pair of brown legs closest to their head, then two pairs of white legs and then one pair of brown legs closest to the body.
It is not always easy to identify paralysis ticks. If the tick
is not fully engorged, its body shape and colour will be hard to determine. Often, a veterinarian will be the only person who can accurately identify the type of tick.
It is absolutely vital that you take your pet to a vet if you think you have found a tick.
What to do if you have found a tick on your pet?
Remove the tick immediately:
- Using your thumb and index fingers, gently pinch the section of your pet’s skin that the tick has attached itself to.
- Then get as close to the skin as possible and firmly pull the tick out of the skin. Specially designed tick removers and tick twisters are also available to assist with this process.
- Don’t panic if the head of the tick remains attached to your pet; without its body, the tick is unable to inject any more toxin.
- Place the tick into a jar and take it and your pet to the vet straight away.
Even if your dog is not displaying symptoms of tick paralysis, it’s important to get them checked over by a professional. The symptoms may take time to appear and by this time your pet may be showing early signs of paralysis. A quick response can make all the difference.
Tick paralysis signs and symptoms
The first signs and symptoms of tick paralysis include a lack of appetite, lethargy, change in bark, gagging and increasingly worsening wobbliness or staggering in the back legs. As the paralysis progresses, it affects the breathing muscles and your dog’s ability to swallow.
The signs and symptoms
- lack of appetite
- Weakness or lethargy
- Change in bark
- Vomiting, gagging or retching
- Staggered walking, difficulty jumping
- Wobbliness, especially in the hind legs
- Difficulty breathing
Paralysis ticks are deadly without appropriate veterinary treatment including antitoxin. The sooner vet treatment is initiated the greater chance your dog has in making a full recovery.
Tick prevention medications are available as tablets, tasty monthly tick chews, spot-ons, rinses, spray and collars.
Note: Tick medications for dogs may be toxic to cats, so ensure you use a cat-safe product if you have cats in your household.
It is important to note that no product is 100% effective, and daily tick searches are imperative. Chat to the team at your local Vets for more information.
Regular daily tick searches, which involve running your hands through your pet’s entire coat (including their face and ears, down the legs, paws, over their stomach, and to the tip of their tail) is recommended. Ask your local Vets team to show you how to do a tick check on your pet. These methods, in conjunction with regular vet health checks, are your best bet at keeping nasty ticks away from your beloved furry friends.
Fleas are tiny, dark brown parasitic insects that infest the coat and skin of pets. They can jump up to 150 times their own length, making the transfer of fleas between your pets difficult to prevent. Their amazing jumping skills also allow them to transfer easily from surrounding environments to your pet.
How do I know if my pet has fleas?
One of the first signs of a flea infestation in your pet is itching. On inspection of your pet’s coat, you will likely see one or more fleas moving around on the surface of your pet’s skin.
You may also notice tiny black particles that look like dirt; these could be flea droppings.
An adult female flea lays an average of 20 to 30 eggs each day. Within a month, the fleas infesting your pet and their environment could be in the thousands.
How do pets get fleas?
Fleas form cocoons which can remain dormant for astonishingly long periods of time. In some cases, fleas can lay dormant inside a cocoon for up to five months. They inhabit the garden, carpet, and furniture until they are able to hitch a ride on your pet. They jump great distances to find a host and bite both pets and humans.
Why is it important to treat and prevent fleas?
Fleas are the number one cause of skin disease in pets and can cause problems ranging from simple itchiness to weeping sores, scaly skin, and infection. Some animals are allergic to flea bites (a condition known as Flea Allergy Dermatitis), where one bite sets off an auto-immune reaction. All skin conditions require veterinary treatment.
How do I protect my pet from fleas?
Recent innovations in flea control have made toxic, expensive, and hard to use products a thing of the past.
When undertaking flea control, you must consider the various stages of the lifecycle. In severe infestations, it is sometimes necessary to treat both the pet and the environment.
Products to rid fleas on your pet
- the latest ‘spot on’ applications are easy to use and last three to four weeks
- oral tablets provide instant relief and a quick knockdown
- monthly tablets and tasty chews work as an effective birth control for fleas, interrupting the lifecycle
- shampoos and rinses kill fleas living on your pet, but offer no residual protection
- The flea comb has closely spaced metal pins (teeth) to remove fleas, flea eggs, and debris
Control the environment
Adopt the following strategies to bring flea infestations under control:
- vacuum the carpet two to three times a week to remove eggs
- wash pet bedding weekly
- spray the house, kennels, and yards with an adult flea killer weekly
If necessary, consult with a professional about ‘fogging’ the house to prevent larvae developing.