Fleas, worms and ticks... Oh my!

This may have to be Eglinton Vet’s theme song for the fall of 2012-our own version of the famous song from the classic movie The Wizard of Oz!  As we move into the fall, our team is regularly talking to clients about a whole host of parasites. Typically, we would focus more on these topics in the spring. However, the weather this year means that we have seen more parasitic infections than in previous years, and we expect this to continue.

Starting in August, we began to get phone calls about fleas, while also finding them on routine exams. Fleas can be a real cause of frustration to pets and people as many animals are actually allergic to the saliva of the flea. This means that even just a small number of fleas can cause a pet to lick, chew and scratch their skin until it is raw. And, fleas are incredibly effective at reproducing indoors once they have found a furry host. Only the adult flea lives on your pet and 95% of the life stages are in the environment (indoors or out). Luckily, the right medication makes it quite easy to prevent or treat a flea problem. Prevention is the easiest approach, however, once a problem has occurred, repeat monthly use of a prescription flea control product is best to eradicate fleas from the environment.

This has been a banner year for intestinal parasites in our patients. The fecal testing of new puppies and kittens, as well as that of older dogs and outdoor cats (whether with or without symptoms) is revealing parasites more often than usual. We assume that this is because the warm weather through last winter created a situation that was perfect for the parasites to thrive on the ground in 2012.            

The most common diagnoses have been of giardia (a microscopic parasite usually found in standing water) and roundworm, although we have seen others as well. Parasite infestations may cause any or all of these symptoms: diarrhea (perhaps with blood); weight loss; dry hair; general poor appearance; and vomiting (rarely with worms in the vomit). However, some infections cause few or no symptoms; in fact some worm eggs or larvae can be dormant in the dog's body and activated only in times of stress. Once parasite identification is made (or if a doctor is treating presumptively), a prescription deworming medication must be administered. With some intestinal worms, treatment of the environment may also be needed. 

Lastly, we are still slowly learning how an increasing tick population is going to impact our patients and their families. We have seen ticks on dogs which have not traveled out of the city (e.g. from Cherry Beach and possibly the ‘Beltline’), and have reports from areas of the province which have not typically had tick populations (e.g. Georgian Bay). Ticks are ugly and bothersome, but more importantly, they have the capacity to cause disease in pets as well as the humans who are out in the same environment. The most notable of these diseases is Lyme Disease, which causes minor symptoms in dogs, but can cause life-threatening illness in people. We have made it routine practice at Eglinton Vet to screen all dogs for Lyme exposure when testing for exposure to Heartworm disease, and did have a number of positive cases in 2012 (although this number was down as compared to 2011). If you are visiting areas of known tick populations, especially in the U.S., please talk to us about tick control and remember to protect yourselves too.

Dorothy was surrounded by unusual creatures in The Wizard of Oz; as we share Toronto with so much wildlife, our pets are also exposed to a variety of parasitic species. The good news is that this story should always have a happy ending, as we can prevent and treat many of the parasites seen.  We will continue to recommend prevention and detection of parasites as part of Eglinton Vet’s commitment to preventative health care for your pets.