Your guide to fleas, ticks
This article is written by Pet Circle Veterinarian,
One of the most important responsibilities of pet ownership is parasite prevention. Fleas, ticks, heartworm and intestinal worms can cause very serious illnesses for your pet; yet thankfully they are completely preventable. Our guide will help you to identify these nasty critters, recognise the symptoms, and see which preventatives are best for each.
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Fleas are small, wingless, bloodsucking insects that live on your dog's body and lay eggs in the environment. Despite your best efforts, your cat or dog may become infested with fleas through contact with other animals, or fleas that are roaming around in the environment.
There are four life stages of a flea: egg, larvae, pupae and adult. Of all these phases, only the adult phase occurs on the host (your pet!). Eggs are laid in the environment - particularly in soft warm fabric such as carpets, pet beds, and blankets. This is why it's so hard to get rid of fleas: a new wave of juvenile fleas can emerge after you've killed the initial population with a flea treatment.
How to tell if your pet has fleas:
It's not always easy to spot fleas in your pet's fur, as they are swift and expert hiders! The best places to spot live fleas are usually over the rump in dogs or under the chin in cats. However, you may never actually see live fleas - instead, something to look for is flea dirt. Flea dirt is actually flea faeces, i.e. digested blood (gross!). You can easily tell the difference between 'regular' dirt and flea dirt by placing it on some white paper and dripping water on it. Flea dirt will leave red blotches on the paper, and regular dirt won't.
There are three main types of ticks: brown, bush and paralysis. Brown and bush ticks are usually not life threatening but will irritate your pet where they latch on to feed, and can transmit other diseases.
Paralysis ticks, however, are the main concern in Australia. They are venomous and will quickly cause paralysis and even death if left untreated. Paralysis ticks are commonly found on the East coast of Australia.
What to do if you find a tick on your pet: take them to your veterinarian immediately for examination. They may require tick antiserum and supportive care. It's important not to assume that the problem is 'gone' as soon as the tick has been removed. Even after a tick has been removed, your pet's symptoms may worsen and develop further because the venom is still present in their system.
Symptoms of paralysis ticks:
- Weakness or loss of coordination in back legs
- Change in sound of bark or voice
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive drooling
- Coughing or trouble breathing
- Vomiting, retching and regurgitation
Pet Circle recommends daily tick searches regardless of whether you are using a treatment, particularly if you live in a tick prone environment.
Heartworm is a blood parasite trasmitted via mosquitoes. When an infected mosquito bites your pet, it injects baby heartworm larvae (known as microfilaria) into the blood. In dogs, these microfilaria make their way to the heart, where they mature and grow. Interestingly, it's a little different in cats - you can read more about this here.
This insect-borne method of spreading is the reason why heartworm is more prevalent in tropical and warmer environments: more mosquitoes equals more heartworm. Unfortunately, this also means that indoor-only animals are still at risk of catching heartworm, as pesky mosquitoes can easily find their way inside!
Symptoms can take months to appear and if left untreated, will result in death. Sadly, even the treatment of heartworm is very difficult and dangerous, and can often result in death of the dog.
If your pet's heartworm is late by 3 months, or if their previous heartworm treatment history is unclear, it may be dangerous to give them heartworm prevention. You will need to have them tested for any infestations previous to administering a preventative.
Symptoms of Heartworm Disease
- Chronic coughing
- Gagging or vomiting
- Exercise intollerance
If you are suspicious that your dog has heartworm, take them to the vet. Your vet will be able to perform a quick and easy snap test with a drop of blood.
Dog products that prevent heartworm: Interceptor, Milbemax, Nexgard Spectra, Simparica Trio, Comfortis Plus, Sentinel, Advocate, Revolution, and Credelio Plus. There is also an annual injection available from your local veterinarian for dogs only.
Intestinal worms range from small, microscopic strongyles to foot-long, squirmy tapeworms. Your dog may contract worms by coming into contact with other infected animals, drinking contaminated water or eating food that contains a worm parasite.
How To Tell If Your Dog Has Worms
Contrary to popular belief, an itchy bottom is not a common sign of worm infestation. Scooting or an itchy bottom is more likely caused by anal gland irritation. In fact, symptoms of intestinal worms include:
- Diarrhoea (sometimes with blood)
- Worms in stools or around anus
- Weight loss
- Distended (pot-bellied) tummy
Which Wormer Is Best?
It's important to be aware that some worming products do not kill tapeworm. Tapeworm is large and more difficult to kill than smaller worm species, requiring a specific medication called Praziquantal. We have included only products below which kill all important worm species, including tapeworm.
Mites are rare and usually only occur in juvenille or immunocompromised pets (ie, dogs with skin allergies). Mites of concern in Australia include the skin mite Demodex and ear mite Otodectes. Sarcoptes (scabies) is another mite that may be found in some parts of Australia, but is comparitively rare.
Demodex causes a patchy hairloss, particularly over the forehead or eyelids. It is mostly seen in warmer areas of Australia. Demodex usually only affects puppies and dogs with hormonal conditions (such as hypothyroidism), or skin allergies. It is particularly common in staffies, due to their predisposition to skin allergies.
Otodectes - aka ear mites - causes intense itchiness in the ears, and may lead to a brown discharge. It is commonly seen in puppies and kittens.
For a full guide to parasite prevention products on the Australian market and which one YOUR pet needs, see the following guides: Parasite Prevention Guide For DOGS and Parasite Prevention Guide for CATS.
A Comparison Table of all Australian Parasite Preventatives and their Coverage
See our product comparison below for an easy guide to flea, tick and worming treatments for cats and dogsand their coverage.
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