Protecting Your Pets While Outdoors

Ollie in field with yellow flowers on Wednesday, March 30, 2011.

Summer may be coming to a close, but there is still plenty of time to spend in the sun. The warmer months present a wonderful opportunity for you and your pet to enjoy the outdoors, but they also come with an increased chance of run-ins with unwanted topical pests, otherwise known as ectoparasites. While this might be a discomforting thought, we are here to help you understand what to look for and how to prevent these bugs from getting the best of your pet. 

The three most common ectoparasites we deal with in NYC are:

Fleas:

A flea is a parasitic insect which hops from one host animal to another, but can be picked up from the outdoors as well. Once a pet is infected, fleas usually spend their time on the abdomen, rump, and neck areas. However, they can be found anywhere on the body. These ectoparasites cause itchy bites, can spread illness, and, if not treated, their populations can grow quickly. While they do bite humans, they would prefer to hang around our four-legged companions. 

Ticks

A tick is a parasitic arthropod usually picked up from the outdoors (mainly, but not exclusively, in areas with woods or heavy brush). After climbing onto their host, they will latch on and feed. As they feed, they will grow in size making them easier to detect with the naked eye. They are able to move to new areas on the same host or go onto other hosts, including humans. These arthropods are associated with many illnesses including  Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Lyme disease which are the three most common tick-borne illnesses seen in the East Coast. 

Mosquitos:

Mosquitos are flying insect and well known pests to both humans and pets alike. Unlike with humans, the main concern when pets are bitten is the spread of heartworm disease. Heartworm disease usually affects dogs but can be contracted by cats and other animals as well. Heartworm disease has been diagnosed in all 50 states of the USA and is becoming more commonplace in NYC because of environmental changes. 

HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PET IS INFECTED?

Fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes can cause dermal and behavioral clinical signs that you can easily recognize, such as increased itchiness, skin lesions, visualization of the ectoparasites, and discomfort or irritability. Furthermore, ticks can spread tick-borne diseases that can have a variety of clinical signs which include, but are not limited to, reduced energy, lameness, decrease or loss of appetite, generalized discomfort, pain, stiffness, swelling of the joints, respiratory distress, increased bruising/ blood spots (petechia) in mucous membranes, and occasionally, neurological abnormalities. Lastly, heartworm disease tends to be asymptomatic until the late stages of the disease, which is why it is recommended to screen your pet at least annually or when advised by your veterinarian. 

While these symptoms are commonly associated with ectoparasites infection, they do not guarantee that your pet has had contact with any of these pests. With that said, it never hurts to do a physical check at home for any ectoparasites before setting up an appointment with your vet. 

For Fleas:

To check for fleas, we recommend purchasing a flea comb from your local pet store and carefully going through the layers of hair on the neck, rump, chest, and stomach areas. It will probably be easiest to see them if you lay your pet down and look at the exposed stomach. Fleas will be most easily found there if you observe the area for a few minutes. (Looking through your pet’s hair with a flea comb can also help find ticks.)

For ticks:

If you find a tick, you can remove it with pointed tweezers or with a tick key (which is often found at the pet store). It is important to make sure the tick’s head is removed with the body, although that may be easier said than done. If you are unsure about the removal, we recommend calling your veterinary center to bring your pet in for a tick removal and further tick check.  

WHAT DO I DO IF I FIND A TICK?

As ticks carry a risk of transmitting disease, we recommend setting up an appointment with your veterinarian to run blood work that screens for common tick-borne illnesses.  At Worth Street this is called the Heartworm/Accuplex test and it is used to check for both heartworm disease and the most common tick-borne illnesses found on the East Coast. We recommend this test to be done 6 – 8 weeks after finding the tick. We also screen with this test annually, even if you haven’t found any ectoparasites. Both heartworm disease and tick-borne illnesses can be easily prevented, and this test is one step in those protective processes.

WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT FUTURE INFECTION?

As we have had a very warm winter, we expect to have an increased prevalence of these parasitic insects. As such, we highly recommend starting a flea/tick and heartworm regiment as soon as possible if you haven’t already begun. 

The easiest and most common precautionary measure for fleas and ticks is to give oral or topical flea and tick prevention. Depending on which preventative is used determines how often it needs to be updated. At Worth Street Veterinary Center, we recommend using Vectra as a topical (spot-on) monthly preventative, Seresto as an 8-month topical (collar) preventative, or Nexgard as a chewable monthly preventative. We also recommend Heartgard, a monthly oral preventative, as the best safeguard against heartworm disease. Your pet’s health, needs, and lifestyle will determine which product(s) would be the best fit. Please discuss this with your veterinarian prior to starting. 

WILL THESE MEDICATIONS BE ENOUGH IF MY PET IS OUTDOORS A LOT?

The flea/tick and heartworm topical or oral medications should be enough to help protect your pet against fleas and mosquitos. For extra protection you can also use a flea/tick collar in tandem with the monthly treatments. However, if you know your pet has a high risk of coming into contact with ticks, we recommend asking your veterinarian about the Lyme disease vaccination. This vaccine is especially recommend for large-breed pets as tick-borne illness can exacerbate commonly occurring joint-aliments, potentially creating more debilitating circumstances overall.    

Should you have any further questions on ectoparasites, or about which preventions, screening tests, or treatments would be best for your pet, please feel free to reach out to us via our app, website, email, or phone. We are always happy to help.

-The Team at Worth Street Veterinary Center

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