Vail Pet Talk column: Use flea and tick preventatives to avoid insect-borne illnesses in pets
Happy spring, everyone. How does the saying go? April showers bring May flowers, and May flowers bring … fleas and ticks? Or is it pilgrims? Well, as a veterinarian and pet owner myself, I’m more concerned with the blood-sucking creatures with multiple legs than I am the pilgrims.
With warmer weather comes more than fresh green grass and blooming trees. Fleas and ticks are indeed present in the valley all the way from Vail to Dotsero and everywhere between. Not only do they cause skin irritation to your pet when they bite them, but they also carry disease. As veterinarians, we take this into account with each pet we see and make recommendations for treatment and preventatives accordingly.
Fleas are very irritating little creatures that can cause significant skin irritation and discomfort to your dog and cat. In addition, they can carry tapeworms and the bacteria that cause plague. We are lucky in that we live in a part of Colorado where plague is not a large concern, but tapeworms are very common around here. Lucky for you and your pets, fleas are very easy to prevent and kill. There are both topical and oral products that are administered every one to three months that can prevent fleas from becoming a problem with your pet and in your home.
Ticks are nasty little creatures that are seen quite frequently in our county and are especially present in the tall grass and in the woods — both of which are favorite recreation spots in the summertime for you and your pets. Ticks crawl onto your pet and attach themselves to it, all the while feeding directly from their bloodstream. Once a tick is attached to your pet, it can transmit disease directly into its bloodstream. Ticks carry several different types of diseases. Your veterinarian can test for several of these diseases quite easily using a simple blood test that can be performed in-house.
Types of insect-borne Illness
Anaplasma is a bacterium that causes anaplasmosis, which is a tick-borne disease that comes in two forms. This disease can cause joint pain, lameness, platelet destruction, gastrointestinal upset, coughing, neurological deficits and overall chronic disease in your dog. Treatment can be expensive and hard on your pet; therefore, it is recommended that we try to prevent ticks from becoming a problem in the first place.
Ehrlichia is a type of bacteria that is transmitted by ticks that infects and lives within the white blood cells of your pet. White blood cells are responsible for your immune system functioning properly, so you can imagine what happens when something wreaks havoc on it. Ehrlichiosis can cause platelet destruction, lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes, organ function disorders, neurological deficits and overall chronic disease in your dog. Very much like anaplasma, it is best to prevent ticks from becoming a problem in the first place, rather than risk having to treat your dog for disease.
We are lucky in Colorado that we do no have to deal with Lyme disease. The deer tick, which is what carries and transmits Lyme disease, is not present in Colorado. However, if you plan on traveling to the Midwest or East Coast, then it is likely your pet can be exposed to Lyme disease. Be sure to plan accordingly.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is caused by a parasite that is transmitted to a dog via a bite from an infected tick. An animal infected with it may show fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and pain, in addition to other organ function and nervous system problems. Similar to the other mentioned diseases, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is best prevented through tick control over having to treat it, due to the stress on your pet that disease can cause.
Not only do fleas and ticks carry disease, but they can also get caught in your pets ears, causing severe irritation and infection — yuck. Please consider using a flea and tick preventative on your pets this spring and summer. They may not say it out loud, but I assure you they will thank you for it.
Dr. Liz Foster is an associate veterinarian at Mountain Mobile Vet and The Animal Hospital Center. She can be reached at 970-328-7085.