Summer brings warm weather and sunny days but it also brings itchy, crawly pests and diseases that can make your pet sick. Your pet depends on you to keep him safe so learn how to prevent the following discomforts and diseases and take appropriate measures to protect him.
Lyme Disease: Lyme Disease is carried by ticks and can infect a wide range of hosts, including human and dogs. Cats develop signs of the disease to a lesser extent than dogs. Infection is first established in the animal after the tick is engorged 24-48 hours after initial contact. This means that you can help to prevent infection by daily grooming. Prime Lyme disease season is from April-September.
The most common sign of the disease in dogs is recurrent acute arthritis and lameness, followed by decreased appetite and depression. It is very rare for a bulls-eye rash to appear around the site of the tick bite in pets. Untreated, pets can develop heart, nervous system and /or kidney complications.
Your veterinarian can diagnose Lyme Disease and Ehrlichiosis, another tick-borne disease with a blood test in the his/her office. Treatment generally consists of 3-4 weeks of antibiotics. Although antibiotics do not always eliminate the infection, they do improve symptoms in 2-3 days.
Methods to prevent this disease include vaccination, utilizing tick repellents year-round, and grooming dogs daily and inspecting for ticks, which are most commonly found about the face and ears. When selecting a tick-repellant, check with your veterinarian. Using the wrong insecticides could make your pet very ill. Currently, there are two vaccines available for dogs through your veterinarian.
If you see a tick attached to your pet's skin, remove it by grabbing the tick as close as you can to the skin using tweezers. Don't cover the tick with petroleum jelly, rubbing alcohol or fingernail polish, or try to burn the tick with a match. Swab the area with alcohol once the tick is removed.
Fleas: For a tiny little parasite, fleas can cause great discomfort in your pet. Scratching is the typical response, however, some pets are more allergic to flea bites than others, resulting in severe skin infections and hair loss. Untreated, your pet could become anemic. This is especially true in very young and very old pets.
There are effective year round flea preventatives that are extremely safe and can keep you from having to treat your home and pet multiple times. Be careful not to mix too many flea and tick products together. It is easy to overdose pets, especially cats with even the mildest insecticides. Never use human or household bug sprays on your pets. Consult your pet's veterinarian about the best products for your pet's lifestyle. Tapeworm: These are long, flat segmented worms transmitted to your pet most commonly by ingesting fleas while biting at them or grooming. Symptoms include mild weight loss and the appearance of worm segments around the rectum of infected pets and in the stool. The segments can look like small pieces of rice or sesame seeds. Flea control must be a part of the treatment program to prevent re-infestation. Humans cannot contract tapeworms from pets.
Heartworm: Female mosquitoes transmit heartworm disease from one animal to another through a single bite. No dog or cat or specific breed is immune. Even inside dogs and cats could be at risk. All it takes is one mosquito to get into your house through a screen door or an open window to jeopardize the health of your pet.
Transmission occurs when female mosquitoes carry heartworm larvae, called microfilariae, from an infected animal and deposit it through a bite into the bloodstream of an uninfected animal. These larvae grow and migrate to the heart of the animal where they live, causing damage to the heart and the large blood vessels. By this time, heartworms resemble spaghetti. Symptoms in your dog can include coughing, weakness, listlessness, tiring easily, and weight loss. Your pet will also have difficulty breathing as the disease worsens, and may die from heart failure if left untreated. Unfortunately, it can take many months for your pet to show signs of the disease, and by then there is significant damage. Early detection through yearly blood testing can help save your pet's life.
Treatment for heartworm disease is serious and expensive. The best thing you can do for your pet is to prevent the disease by using medication prescribed by your veterinarian. In New Jersey, most veterinarians recommend that pets be placed on preventive treatment year round. There are many forms of preventive treatments available. Be sure to speak with your veterinarian about the one that is best for your pet.
Kennel Cough: Kennel Cough Disease, or Infectious Tracheobronchitis, is a contagious upper respiratory infection that dogs acquire from contact with infected dogs or areas where sick dogs have recently been. The most common symptom is a gagging, hacking cough that causes many owners to fear their pup has something caught in its throat. Some pets will sneeze or have a runny nose, have a fever, and act lethargic with a decreased appetite, while others stay peppy and active. It may take more than two weeks for the condition to clear. Your veterinarian can diagnose this disease and prescribe antibiotics and cough suppressants to make your dog feel better and prevent secondary infections.
Kennel Cough can be acquired wherever dogs come in contact with the airborne bacteria and viruses that cause the infection. Dog shows, pet stores, grooming facilities, obedience classes, boarding kennels and the neighborhood park are all grounds for exposure. Discuss your dog's activities and risk of exposure with your dog's veterinarian to see if it is a good idea to vaccinate your pet against Kennel Cough.
If you need a veterinarian, please call the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association at 908-281-0918 for a referral or visit our website at dev.njvma.org. The New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association represents the state's 1,600 licensed veterinarians.