Fleas, worms and ticks are harmful parasites, which readily infest pets, causing debilitation, illness and even death. All pets will be infested with parasites at some stage during their lifetime. Many will have recurring problems and young animals are particularly vulnerable. Parasite infestations in animals can also pose a health risk to members of the family – certain diseases are transmitted during human – animal interaction. Prevention, through the regular use of professionally administered parasite control products, is necessary – it will not only ensure that your pet (and family) remain healthy, but will also be more cost – effective and avoid unnecessary suffering.
What a flea season we have this year! Everyone is complaining ~ and controlling them is a little more complicated than just treating your pet ~ of the whole flea population, only 5% is made up of biting adults (the fleas we see on our dogs) – the rest are quite happily developing into adults in the environment. So imagine how infested your environment is, if you are already seeing a lot of fleas on your animal. The most common problem created by fleas, is when they bite the pets to suck blood, thereby causing (only in certain very sensitive individuals) severe irritation. Flea bite allergy is the most common skin problem found in pets – it is an allergic response created by the body, in reaction to the complex proteins found in the fleas saliva. It is characterized by severe scratching, rubbing and biting – causing raw inflamed and infected areas typically on the lower back, base of tail, inside thighs and stomach area. Sometimes, if animals are heavily infested by fleas, they may become anemic and can even die from this. Pets infested with fleas will probably also be infected with tapeworms, as fleas play an important role in the tapeworms life-cycle. So, if you need to get rid of fleas, target them in various stages:
* treat your pet with a reputable product (discuss your needs with your vet)
* treat the pet’s environment (inside and outdoors)
* deworm your animals.
Ticks are blood-sucking parasites, that survive usually under hot conditions. Controlling the numbers on your pet, should be each pet owner’s basic responsibility, as these parasites can trans
mit lethal diseases, i.e. (a) Biliary and (b) tick-bite fever, to your animal; for which there is no prevention or vaccine. Some ticks (specially the “bont-poot”) , inject a poison into the animals skin, when biting, thereby causing that piece of skin to die off and leave a large open wound.
a. Biliary: is likened to malaria which humans get from mosquitoes. Parasites are transmitted from the tick into the animal’s system. Symptoms don’t appear immediately, but only after 2-3 weeks, when the parasites start multiplying in the red blood cells, causing them to break open. Red blood cells are important to sustain a healthy individual, therefore it is of utmost importance to have this disease treated ASAP!! The sooner it is treated (on untreated animal will surely die), the less life threatening it is, less complications (like liver failure) arise and the less expensive it is! Typical symptoms include pale gums, high fever, inappetance and listlessness. Biliary in cats is at this stage restricted to certain areas in Natal.
b. Tick-bite fever: is similar to the disease human’s (often chronically) contract from ticks. It affects more the white blood cells and blood platelets. It is not unusual for an animal to be infected with both parasites. Typical symptoms include fever, muscle aches and bleeding tendencies. Treatment is quite long-term with a specific antibiotic. Some breeds (e.g. German shepherds) may contract it in a chronic form, where the owners notice that the pet is not quite sick, but also not quite healthy. In cats this disease is known as haemobartonella.
About one in fifteen ticks are carriers of these diseases. Even if your pets are tick-free and their environment clean, don’t forget that birds (classically Hadidas) can infect your area. Even if one doesn’t see ticks on one’s pets – regular application of a tick product is advised. The diseases can not be infected from one animal to the next, they are solely transmitted by ticks. The onus is on the owner to prevent ticks biting their pets in the first place. Treatment of both diseases should be administered by a veterinarian, as each individual patient needs a different treatment regime!! Diagnosis is made by examining a drop of the patients blood under a microscope.
3. Worms: Probably one of the most commonly neglected preventative health measures pet owners take, is that of regularly deworming their pets – it is easy to overlook a pet’s worm infestation until it is already in an advanced stage. Most puppies and kittens are born with worms and if not corrected, this infestation can be deadly – anemia (loss of blood by blood-sucking worms), diminished immune system thereby opening up the body to more severe diseases like gastro and in severe infestations – total blockage of the intestinal track. Adult animals riddled with worms show one or more symptoms of tiredness, weight loss, diarrhea, skin infestations, nervous symptoms, coughing and respiratory problems, internal organ disorders and even blindness. Are 3 main types of worms, which have different life-cycles and different ways of infecting animals – roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms.
Guide to deworming your animals
1. Puppies & kittens: As early as 2 weeks of age; and then again at 4, 6, 8 & 12 weeks of age and then monthly until they are 6 months old.
2. Breeding dogs: Deworm at mating, bitches – 2 weeks prior to giving birth and 4 weeks after giving birth.
3. Healthy adult dogs: At least twice a year, but if kenneled or in high risk contacts – such as at shows or training schools – step up to 4 times a year.
Remember to deworm all pets in the household simultaneously to prevent them re-infecting each other. A good dewormer from your vet may be slightly more expensive, but keep in mind that it will be more effective, will treat more types of worms, have less side-effects and last longer (about 4-6 months.) Regular deworming is an essential health routine for the protection of your pets and your family!