But the downside of owning an animal that considers rolling in the grass an acceptable method of scratching his back is that they can bring many pests into your home. Below we break down the most common pet pests and what you can do to prevent them.
Fleas and Ticks
Fleas lack wings but are superb leapers, making it easy for them to find a host. It is not the bite that causes the itch but the flea’s saliva, to which most cats and dogs are allergic. And if it makes the leap from your pet to you, you’ll likely find you are allergic, too. This causes excessive scratching that can break the skin and result in severe rashes.
Ticks are similarly attracted to warm bodies, crawling from leaves and grass onto your cat or dog. If your pet has long shaggy hair, these pests can be particularly difficult to detect. As ticks feed on the blood of their host, they can insert nasty diseases as they go, including Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosis, canine anaplasmosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. These are serious diseases that when passed to humans can start as a cough, fatigue or fever and progress into major problems, such as heart and central nervous system damage.
Both of these pests can be easily prevented and expunged with regular bathing. For fleas, if you know the population is at its peak or see your pet scratching excessively, it is a good idea to pick through your pet’s hair with a fine toothcomb, removing any pests that you spot while wearing gloves. Fleas are further preventable with daily medication. This can be purchased from your vet and is usually covered under your dog insurance plan.
For ticks, if you live in a tick-prone area, make sure to keep your lawn freshly cut, as ticks thrive in overgrown grass. Frequently do tick checks on your pet by running your hands over his/her body while wearing gloves and separating the hair to check the skin surface beneath. If you feel or see something odd, immediately remove the tick with a tweezer while wearing gloves. Make sure to dispose of it properly, either by putting it back outside or sealing it in an air-tight container and throwing it in a lidded trashcan (or better yet, directly in your trash can outside).
The most common kind of pet pest is the heartworm, which employs the mosquito as its chauffeur. Once your pet is infected, the heartworm can take several months before becoming active. Newborn heartworms float around an animal’s bloodstream, settling in adulthood in the blood vessels between the heart and lungs, where they can grow up to fourteen inches long. Dogs can carry up to thirty heartworms at one time and are easily infected while cats can die from just one worm.
Fortunately, heartworms are 100% preventable with daily medication. If your pet has already become infected, your vet will give you an insecticide medication to help kill them. However, these medications are likely to kill sickly or elderly dogs, so it is crucial to prevent the infection in the first place.
The heartworm’s gastrointestinal counterparts, the hookworm, the roundworm and the whip worm, are also formidable foe, wreaking all kinds of digestive havoc. Treating them carries the same kind or risks as the treatment for heartworm. You can prevent infection by keeping your pet’s habitat clean, and by having their fecal matter examined at regular intervals when they are puppies or kittens. Some of these worms can also be prevented with the same medication used to treat heartworm.
If your pet enjoys slurping up rainwater, he or she is also at risk of picking up Giardia, a protozoa parasite. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea. It is often accompanied by weight loss, dehydration, and fatigue. Giardia is preventable with a vaccine, so if you go on outdoor adventures with your pet consider a vaccination beforehand.
If any of these pests are left untreated, it can be difficult for your pet to maintain the nutrition he or she needs. If infestations for these pets are common (are a lot of your neighbors’ pets infected?) in your area, consider hiring an exterminator to assess the problem and explore the options for permanent removal. A best defense is a good offense, so make sure to take preventable measures to ensure your pets and family stay safe.