Parasites and Your Pet


It’s that time of year again when most pet owners start thinking about all the bugs and parasites that come with warmer weather. Many people are starting to purchase their pet’s flea and tick preventative products and heartworm prevention products. At Iowa Veterinary Wellness Center, we believe that it’s best for your pet if you give preventatives year-round instead of just during the warm months of the year. And here’s why….

Most heartworm preventions on the market today also have a deworming component in them to combat intestinal parasites. This means that by giving monthly heartworm prevention year-round, you are also protecting your pet from potential infection of roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and/or tapeworms (depending on the product you’re using). No one likes dealing with worms, so that’s a definite plus.

Year-round heartworm prevention is also important because of the life cycle of a heartworm. Heartworms have a somewhat complex life cycle (check out this awesome graphic that helps explain the life cycle of heartworms:

Heartworm Cycles

Microfilariae (heartworm larvae – the baby worms) are carried by mosquitoes. Microfilariae need to be in the body of a mosquito in order to mature enough to their infective stage. When an infected mosquito bites a dog or cat, the microfilariae are injected into the pet’s tissue and eventually end up in the heart. Once the mature worms accumulate in the heart and blood vessels, this is known as heartworm disease. Heartworm disease is very dangerous and can be fatal, as the heartworms can cause heart failure and the formation of blood clots. Pets can also develop Caval syndrome if they have a large amount of worms in the heart. There are heartworm disease treatments available for dogs, but the process of treatment is dangerous as well, and it is very hard on the animal being treated. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for heartworm disease and heartworm-associated respiratory disease in cats – if a cat gets heartworms, it is fatal. For more information on heartworm disease in cats, check out this article:

Heartworms and Cats

Heartworm tests can only detect a worm that is mature. It takes the microfilariae at least 6 months (from the time the dog was bitten by an infected mosquito) to mature enough to be detected by the heartworm test. And heartworm prevention is only effective if given at the regular recommended interval – if you give the medication a week late or accidentally skip a month, your pet could still potentially be susceptible to a heartworm infection. So make sure you write it down or put a reminder in your smartphone to give the heartworm prevention on the same day each month.

In Iowa, we recommend giving flea and tick prevention products year-round, but if you choose to give prevention seasonally, you do need to be mindful of the weather. If there is no solid freeze or long-lasting freeze during the winter, the fleas and ticks will definitely survive. Fleas have been around for ages and they are very good at adapting to the weather to stay alive. If it starts getting cold, they are going to jump onto any warm being they can find. Wildlife and backyard critters (squirrels, rabbits, etc.) are carriers of fleas, so even if your dog or cat doesn’t really go anywhere outside of your own yard or home, there’s still a risk they will pick up fleas. You can also carry fleas into your home, if you happen to have a flea jump on your pant leg or perhaps you pick up a flea egg or larvae on your shoe. Once you get a flea infestation, it can be difficult to try to get rid of them – it’s just much easier and safer to give your pet flea prevention. Flea preventative products typically only kill one or two life stages of fleas, so it’s important to stay on top of giving the product as directed. If it’s a mild winter (as it has been in Iowa for the last couple of years), you should consider giving your flea and tick prevention year-round.

Ticks are also very troublesome as well. Not only are they gross and scary-looking, they also carry many life-threatening diseases. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are two common diseases that ticks can carry, as well as Anaplasmosis, Erlichiosis, Babesiosis, and Tularemia. Tick-borne diseases can affect pets, as well as people – chances are if your dog has been exposed to a disease-spreading tick, you probably have been, too. Treatment for these tick-borne diseases is available, but the illnesses the diseases cause are no fun at all. Many signs and symptoms of tick-borne illnesses don’t show up until 7-10 days after the tick has bitten its host, and resemble flu-like symptoms. Most preventions that kill ticks work only after the tick has bitten the pet – but as long as the tick falls off the host (because it dies) within 24-48 hours, the risk of disease transmission is very minimal. Most preventatives are labeled to kill ticks within that time period. So besides taking care of those itchy, jumping fleas, flea and tick prevention is important for your pets to keep them from getting tick-borne illnesses as well.

For more information on tick identification and tick-borne diseases, check out this link from the CDC:

“Tickborne Diseases of the United States”

There are a lot of preventative products on the market. We recommend products that are available only through veterinarians. There are some products that are available over-the-counter at pet stores, department stores, online suppliers like Amazon, etc., but these are not guaranteed to be safe or effective – some products are even potentially harmful to your pet and/or you and your family. If you’re not sure what product(s) would be best for your pet, come on in to see us and we’ll be happy to help you out! We don’t want your pet to suffer through the gross effects of parasite infections, and we’re pretty sure that you don’t want to deal with fleas, ticks, or worms either. Help us help you and protect your pet today!

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