NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 17, 2013

Paw Prints: Spring is prime time for disease

Paw Prints, Heidi Bassler
veterinarian

---- — Spring has sprung, and it seems every creature and critter is more active. Birds are tweeting, bugs are hungry and wildlife is checking out your yard. Fido may hear the coyote choir at night, but it doesn’t intimidate him. If Fluffy goes outside, he’s prowling for little prey.

With the annual awakening of Mother Nature comes an increase in infectious disease. In fact, the risk that your pet will acquire a disease from another living creature is significantly higher during warm weather than it was a few months ago.

Here’s my list of five seasonal health risks from other creatures to cats and dogs in our area.

1. Tick diseases. There are many different ticks in our neck of the woods, and each hosts a variety of nasty diseases. Perhaps the most problematic and prolific are deer ticks.

Deer ticks are responsible for three common diseases — Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis. A single deer tick can infect a human with all three bacteria during its gluttonous blood meal. Lyme disease has not been reported in cats, but they can become sick with anaplasmosis.

Lyme disease and anaplasmosis are frequently diagnosed in dogs in our area. Although deer ticks are frantically in search of a blood meal now, they actually have a two-year life cycle. This means they will hunt for, and attach to, dogs or other victims even during mild winter weeks.

Vaccines are available for Lyme disease but not anaplasmosis. Since no tick control product is 100 percent effective, the Lyme vaccine is a good idea. Prevention is especially important because the preferred antibiotic to treat these infections is in short supply.

The best way to prevent tick diseases in your pets is to use effective prevention all year. Products vary in efficacy and safety, so be sure to talk to your veterinarian.

2. Flea infestations. Fleas love humidity, and fleas love heat. That combination creates the perfect flea breeding ground, and your home could be party central.

Fleas will hitchhike into your home any way they can. Your pet may investigate wildlife bedding and come home with guests. Or visiting friends may inadvertently carry sticky flea eggs on their clothing from their home to yours. Either way, fleas multiply rapidly at this time of year.

In addition to the obvious disgusting nature of those bloodsucking critters, fleas are undesirable because they spread disease. Some pets are allergic to flea saliva and develop horrible, itchy rashes.

Tapeworm eggs can be spread by fleas. If you see wiggly ricelike segments under your cat’s tail, tapeworms may be the culprit.

Fleas can also spread germs to pets that make people sick. Cat scratch disease is just one example.

Fortunately, there are many safe and effective ways to prevent fleas on your pets and in your home. If you are reluctant to use pesticides, your veterinarian should be able to discuss other options with you.

3. Intestinal parasites. The most common worms that can live in your pet’s intestines are roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms.

These worms can spread to people, too. When this happens, they travel around the body searching for pet intestines. Symptoms in people depend on where the worm migrates. Pet roundworms are reported as the leading cause of blindness in children.

Pets acquire these parasites various ways. Puppies and kittens are infected with roundworms during nursing. Some adult dogs eat feces from other pets. Hunting cats might consume worm eggs along with their mouse meat. These eggs are found in many places, so every pet is at risk.

Fido and Fluffy should have their stool checked for parasites at least annually. If they go outside, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends monthly deworming. Fortunately, many monthly heartworm preventives also address common intestinal parasites.

4. Heartworms. Unlike intestinal parasites, these spaghetti-like worms live in the great blood vessels around the heart. They are problematic during warm weather because they are spread by mosquitoes.

Heartworms cause heart failure in dogs and respiratory disease in cats. In all pets, heartworms can be fatal. If Fluffy is indoors-only, don’t think your walls and windows are keeping him safe. One-third of all cats with heartworm disease are indoors-only.

Despite the seriousness of this parasite, heartworms are easy to prevent with monthly medicine.

5. Rabies and other viruses. Although pets can become infected with rabies, distemper and other viruses from pets, wildlife is the main culprit.

Vaccination has been very effective at reducing these viral infections in cats and dogs. However, encounters with wildlife increase with warm weather. Talk to your veterinary team to make sure your Fido and Fluffy are up-to-date with their vaccines. These viruses are far easier to prevent than to manage after exposure.

For more information on pet parasites and other diseases, visit www.petsandparasites.org and www.cdc.gov.

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Dr. Heidi Bassler practices at Bassler Veterinary Hospital (www.BasslerVet.com). She hosts a radio show, “Your Pet’s Health,” every Sunday morning at 8:30 on AM-1450 WNBP. Do you have questions for Dr. Bassler? Send them to heidibasslerdvm@comcast.net.