Winter may be here, but the lower temperatures don’t give you permission to take a break from your pet’s parasite prevention program. Parasites can be extremely problematic for your pet, and many are active all year long, especially in Alabama where the temperatures are so mild. Our Town and Country Animal Hospital PC team explains why year-round parasite prevention is so critical to your pet’s well-being.

Your pet needs year-round protection from fleas

Fleas are bloodthirsty little creatures that can ingest up to 15 times their body weight in blood, and they can bite your pet more than 400 times a day. While they are incredibly annoying, their nuisance level is not their most problematic trait. These parasites can cause significant health issues for your pet if not kept in check. 

  • Flea allergies — Many pets are allergic to a protein found in the flea’s saliva, and one bite can cause them to scratch, chew, and rub excessively. You may notice small, red bumps on their abdomen and groin, and they may have hair loss, especially at the base of their tail. Complete eradication of the fleas from your pet’s body and environment is required to eliminate these reactions.
  • Tapeworms — Pets commonly ingest fleas during grooming, and if they swallow an infected flea, it can transmit tapeworms, which are parasites that attach to your pet’s intestine to leach nutrients. These parasites look like rice grains and can be found on your pet’s hindquarters or in their feces. Signs include weight loss and irritation to their anus, resulting in scooting behavior.
  • Anemia — Heavy flea infestations can cause anemia, especially in puppies and kittens. Signs include lethargy and pale mucous membranes.

Your pet needs year-round protection from ticks

Alabama is home to several tick species, and some carry illness-causing bacteria that can be transferred to pets when they feed. In addition, a toxin in the tick’s saliva can attack your pet’s nervous system, resulting in rapidly progressive motor paralysis. Ticks are hardy creatures and can remain active all year long. They find their hosts by sensing a pet’s breath, odor, heat, vibrations, or shadow, and they grasp the pet’s fur using their front questing limbs to find a prime feeding spot. Common tick-borne illnesses reported in Alabama include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis. Tick-borne illness symptoms tend to be generalized and include fever, lethargy, joint pain or swelling, and swollen lymph nodes. Blood disorders occur in some cases, and severe disease can cause damage to organs such as the kidneys and liver. Most cases respond to antibiotics, but treatment can be prolonged, taking several weeks or months to clear. Providing year-round tick prevention is the best way to protect your pet.

Your pet needs year-round protection from heartworms

Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes, which become active when temperatures consistently stay above 50 degrees. Their populations and activity increase in warm, humid environments, making Alabama an ideal breeding ground. Here, mosquito season begins in February and runs to November. Heartworms cause significant damage to your pet’s heart and lungs, and, if not diagnosed and treated promptly, can have fatal consequences for your pet. Different species are affected differently.

  • Dogs — Dogs are natural hosts for heartworms, meaning the parasite can mature, mate, and produce offspring while in your dog’s heart. Most dogs don’t show signs in the early stages, but as the parasites grow in number, signs include a soft, persistent cough, lethargy, weight loss, and decreased appetite. In severe cases, a condition called caval syndrome can occur in which the worms cause a sudden blood flow blockage in the heart, resulting in labored breathing, pale gums, and collapse. Treatment for heartworm disease is complicated, and if the case is severe or not managed appropriately, your dog may not survive. Providing year-round heartworm prevention is the best way to protect your dog.
  • Cats — Cats are atypical hosts for heartworms, meaning the parasites don’t typically fully mature while residing in their heart. However, they still can cause significant problems for your cat since their heart is so small. Most cats don’t show signs in the early stages, and some never show signs until they suddenly die. If present, signs include coughing, asthma-like attacks, vomiting, and weight loss. Some cats develop heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD), which causes severe inflammation in the lung blood vessels. No treatment is available for heartworms in cats, making year-round heartworm prevention the only way to protect your cat.

Your pet needs year-round protection from intestinal parasites

Intestinal parasites, such as hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, whipworms, giardia, and coccidia, are commonly found in public areas such as parks and trails. These parasites are transmitted when your pet comes in contact with objects contaminated by infected fecal material. Signs include weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, and unkempt appearance. Puppies, kittens, immunocompromised pets, and senior pets are most severely affected. Treatment involves administering an appropriate deworming medication prescribed by a veterinary professional. Providing year-round intestinal parasite prevention is the best way to protect your pet.

Many parasites are capable of preying on your pet all year long. Providing year-round prevention is the best way to ensure your pet is  kept safe. If you would like to discuss what parasite prevention protocol is right for your pet, contact our team at Town and Country Animal Hospital PC so we can keep them critter free.