Yes, it is that time of year!
If you are like me you look forward to the changing of the seasons. One of the biggest changes in the Maritimes is from winter to spring and what is there not to love about spring? Our clocks “spring ahead” to provide us with more daylight hours and our children recharge themselves during “spring break”. Spring is a time of celebration and rebirth. The weather gets warmer, baby animals are born, people celebrate Easter and we spend more time outside with our pets. Goodbye snow, goodbye shovels, goodbye cold!! I mean really, is there anything not to love about spring?
If I asked this question to the people I work with the answer would be a resounding YES! They love spring as much as I do but they know things you may not. April showers bring May flowers but the warmer weather also brings some creepy, icky, dangerous things as well – parasites. Lungworm, heartworm, intestinal worms, fleas and ticks to name just a few.
All cats and dogs are at risk for parasites and as we spend more time outside in the warmer weather our pets are more likely to be exposed to these parasites. Some external parasites like fleas and ticks are easy to see on our cats and dogs. This makes it easy to treat our pets quickly. Internal parasites like roundworm, lungworm and heartworm are often not found until our pets are sick (think vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, cough and respiratory distress). These parasites are often not seen but can be detected in our pet’s bodies by fecal or blood testing.
Every year we see animals come into the hospital because of illnesses caused by parasites. They could have a disease like flea allergy dermatitis which is caused by flea bites. This skin condition is uncomfortable for our pets but has a potential outcome of full recovery with treatment. They could have a disease like Lyme disease (caused by tick bites) that has the potential to cause long term debilitating effects in our dogs. They could also have a potentially fatal disease like heartworm (caused by mosquito bites). It saddens me that we continue to see our pets suffer because of parasites. It is also dangerous as we as pet owners are not immune to the diseases these parasites carry. We can become infected and develop the same diseases as our pets. This can happen by direct exposure to the parasite in nature (black legged ticks that carry Lyme disease can transmit the disease directly to us and our dogs through a tick bite), or from interactions with our pets in our homes (we can be infected with roundworm we get directly from a pet).
If you are like me then your pets are an important part of your life and you spend a lot of time “up close and personal” with them. Many days I feel I am lucky my cats and dogs allow me to live in the house with them (I suspect my ability to open the food container has a lot to do with this). They sleep in the beds, sit on the furniture and I am sure they get on the counters whenever possible (think dirt you do not see!!!). My pets go outside and into the woods and play with other animals. They are definitely at risk for parasites. I periodically test them for parasites and treat year round for fleas and worms. I plan to start treating year round for ticks as well.
I am not writing this to try to scare you, make you feel like a bad pet owner or sell you things you feel you do not need or want. I am writing this to try to educate you and to start a dialogue about parasites. As I said all pets are at risk for parasites, which ones depend on your pet’s lifestyle. Years ago we did not see diseases like lungworm and Lyme disease in Nova Scotia. Years ago ticks were a disgusting bug you could avoid seeing in Nova Scotia if you stayed in the cities. These things are no longer true. We need to talk about what parasites are out there, which of our pets are most at risk, are we as animal lovers and owners at risk, and what can we do with this information?
I feel we can use this information to test our pets for parasites and treat them with safe and effective products, hopefully before they have an infection/infestation. Every day I work with wonderful pet people who have the answers to your parasite questions. We know what parasites are a concern in our region, we know where the tick “hot spots” are and we know how to help you and your pets be protected from parasites. Spring is a time of new beginnings, new adventures to have with your pets and families, but it is also a time of re-emergence of parasites in the outside environment.
Please enjoy your time outside in nature but come talk to us first. The only thing more enjoyable than a long walk in the woods with your dog is coming home knowing they did not pick up any parasitic hitchhikers along the way.
By: Dr. Pam MacKay