Spring Newsletter 2014

by Alaine Hu, DVM

As we approach the warm-weather months and we begin to head outdoors, pet owners often start to ask the questions:

  • Is my pet protected against fleas and ticks? And which one do I need?
  • I don’t see fleas and I don’t get bit, so does that mean we don’t have fleas?
  • What product do I use, there are so many?

Fleas are a widespread problem in the United States.  They not only carry tapeworm, which can be transmitted to cats and dogs, but they make our pets itchy and scratchy, sometimes to the extent of causing severe dermatitis.  Just because you don’t see fleas, does not mean that your pets don’t have them.  Fleas only live on the animals for a few hours to feed, then jump off, live and breed in the environment.  Usually evidence of heavy flea infestations is seen on the animal in the form of “flea dirt” or flea excrement.  Sometimes, we see the actual fleas. (They are fast little boogers!)  Fleas are also species specific.  So, cat and dog fleas don’t like to eat people!  So if you’re getting bit, it’s either because the dog or cat is no longer in the environment and they are hungry OR there are so many of them they need more than just your pet(s) to eat.

Flea control starts in the environment.  If you have a bad flea problem, spraying the yards, flea bombing the house, washing bedding (your bed and your pet’s bed), regular vacuuming and cleaning are great start.  Then your veterinarian can prescribe a monthly flea control for your pets.  Most flea control products today have quick kill times and break the flea’s life cycle before they can lay eggs.  Remember, California is warm weather year-round and hibernating fleas like to hatch in comfortable weather, which can be in December some years.

Ticks are also prevalent carriers of disease in California!  In Santa Clara County, they can be carriers of Lyme’s disease.  Ticks also can carry Lyme’s, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesia, Erlichiosis and a variety of other diseases.  Many of our pets get exposed to ticks hiking in our local foothills.  General ticks are more active in the summer, but also “come out” in warmer temperatures.

Heartworm disease is also a significant disease carried by mosquitos in this area.  Most flea and tick products today also help repel mosquitos.  Most of our coyote population serves as reservoir for heartworm disease.  Heartworm can live in dogs’ hearts for years without any outward signs of disease.  Disease leads to congestive heart failure.  Preventative medication kills the microfilariae or the young stages of the worm.

Gastrointestinal parasitic infections are also common disease that affect our pets.  Infections are transmitted from contaminated water, feces or close contact to infected animals.  Young puppies and kittens often get infections from their mothers.  Simple deworming is often incorporated in some of today’s heartworm preventative and some flea products.

Which product do I use?  It is recommend to keep your pet on regular, year round flea and heartworm preventative products.  Tick products are dependant on you pets exposure level.  Currently there are both oral and topical formulations.  Oral formulations tend have a faster time to kill than the topical formulations, but also require that the animal bites the pet before being effective.  Currently oral combinations guard against fleas/heartworm/GI parasites (Trifexis), fleas only (Comfortis), fleas/tick (Nexgard) and heartworm/GI parasites (Heartgard).  Topical combinations in fleas/heartworm/GI parasites (Advantage Multi), flea and tick (Advantix, Frontline Plus, Revolution) and flea only (Advantage, Frontline). 

Please consult with your veterinarian for the best production for your pet’s flea/tick/heartworm control needs.  Generic brands are not recommend due to an increase in incidence of adverse side effects and lower effectiveness.