As temperatures drop, you may think you can suspend your pet’s parasite prevention medications, but protecting your pet from external and internal parasites is a year-round commitment. Our team at Driftwood Animal Hospital explains why your pet needs a continuous parasite prevention protocol.

Fleas benefit when you don’t provide year-round protection for your pet

Fleas are the most common external parasite found on cats and dogs. They thrive in warm, humid environments, but can survive near-freezing temperatures. Fleas are not inactive during the winter months, and often seek warm, stable environments, such as your home, when the temperatures start to drop. Signs that your pet has fleas include scratching, finding flea dirt in their coat or bedding, and hair loss and red bumps on their groin, belly, and tail base. Common threats caused by fleas include:

  • Flea allergies — Flea allergy dermatitis is the most common dermatologic disease diagnosed in dogs, and is also common in cats. Only one flea bite is needed to trigger signs, since the reaction is a response to the flea’s saliva. Signs include intense, continuous scratching, licking, chewing, and rubbing, hair loss, and skin lesions on the rump and tailhead. All fleas must be eradicated from your pet and their environment, to alleviate their signs. 
  • Anemia — Fleas ingest 15 times their body weight in blood, and pets who have a severe infestation can develop anemia. Puppies and kittens are at highest risk. Signs include lethargy and pale mucous membranes. Blood transfusions are sometimes needed to correct severe anemia.
  • Tapeworms — Tapeworms are transmitted to your pet when they ingest an infected flea. Signs include weight loss, scooting their hind end across the floor, and tapeworm segments in your pet’s feces. An appropriate deworming medication will be prescribed if your pet is infected.

Ticks benefit when you don’t provide year-round protection for your pet

Ticks are hardy creatures. Rather than dying off during the winter, they seek shelter under fallen leaves in wooded areas, and many disease-carrying species remain active, so long as the climate remains above freezing and is not too icy or wet. Ticks can be found in tall grass, under accumulated leaves, and around woodpiles. Because pets walk close to the ground, they are especially vulnerable to ticks becoming attached. Common diseases that ticks cause include:

  • Lyme disease — Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, and is transmitted by black-legged ticks. Signs include lethargy, decreased appetite, lameness, and swollen lymph nodes. Kidney complications have also been known to occur in dogs.
  • Anaplasmosis — Anaplasmosis is an infection caused by Anaplasma phagocytophilum, transmitted by black-legged ticks, and Anaplasma platys, transmitted by the brown dog tick. Signs indicating A. phagocytophilum infection include fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and incoordination. Signs indicating A. platys infection include unexplained bruising and bleeding, especially nosebleeds.
  • Ehrlichiosis — Ehrlichiosis is an infection caused by Ehrlichia bacteria, transmitted by the brown dog tick, black-legged ticks, and the lone star tick. Signs include lethargy, decreased appetite, and weakness.

Tick-borne illnesses are typically responsive to a particular antibiotic family. Depending on the type and severity of your pet’s disease, treatment may be required for weeks to months.

Heartworms benefit when you don’t provide year-round protection for your pet

Heartworms are transmitted when an infected mosquito takes a blood meal from your pet. The infective larvae enter your pet’s bloodstream, travel to their heart, where they mature to adulthood, and cause lasting damage to their heart, lungs, and arteries. If you take a seasonal break from your pet’s heartworm prevention, unpredictable weather patterns and fluctuating temperatures could result in unexpected mosquito activity. Different pet species are affected in different ways.

  • Dogs — Many dogs show few or no signs in the early stages. Active dogs, more heavily infected dogs, and dogs who have a preexisting health condition are more likely to show clinical signs, which include a mild persistent cough, exercise reluctance, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. If your dog has heartworm disease, their condition must be stabilized before treatment can begin. Heartworm disease is extremely dangerous, and prevention is the best way to address this issue in dogs.
  • Cats — Most cats do not show signs in the early stages. As their condition progresses, signs include coughing, asthma-like attacks, vomiting, decreased appetite, and weight loss. Some affected cats may experience difficulty walking, fainting, seizures, or sudden death. No treatment for heartworms is available for cats, so prevention is the only way to address this issue.

Intestinal parasites benefit when you don’t provide year-round protection for your pet

In addition to tapeworms, several intestinal parasites (i.e., roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, giardia, and coccidia) can detrimentally affect your pet’s health. These parasites are mainly spread when your pet ingests something contaminated by infected feces. Giardia can also be contracted from drinking contaminated water. The most common intestinal parasite signs include diarrhea, lethargy, weight loss, and an unkempt appearance. An appropriate deworming medication will be prescribed, depending on the parasite affecting your pet.

Year-round parasite prevention is the best way to protect your pet from numerous internal and external parasites. If you would like to discuss what preventive measures are best for your pet, contact our team at Driftwood Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment.