Summer’s here, and with it comes fun in the sun, camping and hiking trips to the lake — and the usual summertime pests. Fleas, ticks and mosquitoes are visual reminders of the itchy woes we and our pets have to deal with, but there are also those sneaky unseen pests — waterborne parasites and bacterial infections, to mention just two. While we don’t want to get your head spinning with worry, we do want you to know what you and your pets are up against, and how to mitigate any ill effects. As G.I Joe would say, “Knowing is half the battle.”
These pests are nearly impossible to avoid for an entire season. Even with shampoos, collars, powders and sprays, your pet may still end up with fleas. The flea life cycle includes the adult flea, eggs, larva and pupa. The adult fleas are responsible for the biting that leads to itching, but they can’t survive long if they are not on the pet; once they lay their eggs, they fall off. Fleas also lay their eggs in shady areas outside and around the house.
Most owners first notice frequent and severe itching and scratching, hair loss and scabs on their pets. Often, the hind end is affected more than the front of the body or the head. Other effects include anemia, tapeworm infection (caused by a parasite that finds an intermediate host in the flea), pruritis (intense itching with inflamed skin) and hypersensitivity. There is also plague and, in cats, the Rickettsia felis and Bartonella hensellae diseases. The best way to check for fleas is with a flea comb. Frequent bathing and combing are essential components of any flea treatment program.
Lovely days out in the woods, communing with nature, breathing fresh air… these are the joys of summer. Unfortunately, ticks like these spots, too, and they don’t mind waiting for warm-blooded travelers like you and your pet to hitch a ride on.
Ticks have hard back shields and can be felt as small bumps during regular petting. They are visible when the fur is parted. The effects from their bites include blood loss anemia, hypersensitivity, pruritis and damage to the lymphatic, immune and nervous systems. Some of the more serious diseases that ticks can transmit are Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and babesiosis.
If you will be spending time in grassy or wooded areas with your pet, be sure to do a tick inspection daily so that you can remove the tick before it does damage. Removal technique is important: Make sure to become familiar with the proper procedure before doing it. You don’t want to end up with a worse situation because of improper removal.
Even your indoor pets are at risk for the miseries brought on by mosquitoes, since the bugs still get inside on occasion and can bite through screens on windows, where cats tend to rest. Of course, mosquitoes cause itchy bumps, and that is irritating enough — but they also carry serious, life-threatening diseases. Heartworm, a roundworm that can infect both cats and dogs, is a silent killer that can be treated easily if caught in time. And two diseases that affect both humans and animals, like cats and dogs are Saint Louis Encephalitis (SLE), which attacks the brain, and West Nile Virus (WNV).
Tapeworms, aka, Cestodiasis
These little buggers cause itching in a most unfortunate spot, so if you notice that your dog or cat is dragging its hind end across the floor, or licking its anus more than usual, it may have a case of tapeworms. Tapeworm species include Taenia, Dipylidium Caninum, Echinococcus and Mesocestoides. Pieces of the worm may or may not be visible in the feces, so if you suspect an infestation of this parasite, take your pet to the veterinarian for a fecal examination.
Treatment to destroy tapeworms is critical to avoid transmission to humans (typically children) and to avert damage to your pet’s body. Tapeworms are usually picked up through fleas, when an animal ingests an infected flea, and when animals ingest smaller wild animals that are infected, such as rabbits, birds and rodents.
Also called the Cuterebra, the botfly hangs out in grass, latching onto warm-blooded animals that pass by. Symptoms of botfly infection include seizures, aggression, blindness, and warbles, or lumps, in the skin where the botfly has taken up residence. In cats, the cuterebra larva typically travels to the brain.
Sarcoptes scabiei mite
Most prevalent in the summer months, the condition caused by this mite — known as scabies or mange — is more of a nuisance than a danger. Of course, any condition that results in open wounds is dangerous because it opens the body to bacterial invasion. The most common risk of exposure comes from contact with other animals and outdoor activities. Treatment is the same as for fleas but more aggressive, with quarantining and thorough baths.
Aquatic and fungal parasites
At some point in the summer, it gets too hot to do anything but find a body of water and jump in. While we would never dissuade you from doing that, we do want you to be an informed swimmer. One type of waterborne parasite, the Heterobilharzia americanum, a flatworm, uses water snails as their intermediate hosts until they are big enough to search for larger, warmer-blooded hosts. Symptoms and signs can range from relatively mild, such as diarrhea and itching, to severe organ and intestinal damage. This is most common in southern waters and is most likely to affect sporting dogs that fetch in wet and wooded areas, but it can infect anyone who swims in contaminated waters. Another type of parasitic bacteria picked up in wet, subtropical areas is the Leptospira interrogans, a corkscrew-shaped bacteria that burrows into the skin and spreads through the bloodstream.
Where the climate is drier, the Coccidioides immitis is the culprit for a host of nasty conditions. These fungal spores behave like parasites; they spread when the dirt they live in is disturbed by rain or digging, and the wind picks them up to disperse them. They are then inhaled or ingested. Diseases that result from this infection include San Joaquin Valley Fever, California Fever, cocci and desert fever. And last, but not even close to least, is the opportunistic Aspergillus mold, which grows in grass clippings and dust. Like the cocci fungus, it also enters through the nasal passages.
We wouldn’t want you and your pets to stay cooped up for fear of what is out there. So arm yourself with knowledge and repellants, and get outside. With some vigilance and planning, you will find the end of summer coming much too soon again — and we’ll be here to see you into autumn.