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Norwich Bulletin - 6/7/2009

Here Come the Bugs

When Spring comes around, you know that flea & tick season has begun and it is vital to keep your pet and home flea & tick- free! Don't let these pesky parasites spoil your Spring and Summer or worse, spoil your pet’s summer holiday!

Fleas are small wingless parasitic insects that live off the blood of mammals (that includes humans) and birds. Fleas usually just bother annoy our pets, but when there is an infestation, many animals, especially kittens and puppies will develop allergic reactions to the fleas’ saliva. This leads to the development of rashes and even loss of fur from excessive scratching or biting. Even if your pet doesn't have allergic reactions to fleas, there are other dangers. Fleas can carry diseases such as tapeworms and Lyme disease.

Fleas have four stages in their life cycle; egg, larva, pupa & adult. The length of the cycle can be anywhere from 2 weeks up to a year, depending on the environment; temperature, humidity, and food availability. One flea can produce 2,000 eggs in its lifetime and can reproduce year-round in warm climates. They prefer high humidity and temperatures which is why we tend to get them in the humid, summer months.

But even worse, I think, are the ticks. Ticks are parasitic vertebrates that can effect everything, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. A tick is not actually an insect either. They are members of Arachnida, which includes spiders, scorpions, and mites. There are many species of ticks throughout the world, but only a few are known to cause problems to humans and pets in North America. If you live in an area populated with ticks you should keep a sharp eye on these parasites.

They can transmit serious diseases (such as rickettsial diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis) to dogs and even to humans. They seem to gravitate to light colors. Whether it is a white dog or cat or a human wearing white socks – that’s where they tend to strike first. Now, the dogs and cats can be protected but we really don’t have the option of putting Frontline on our skin. The best way to help your companion animal is to prevent fleas from developing on your pet. Of course that is as long as you do not already have an active infestation.

There are several orally administered products on the market formulated to break the flea's life cycle by preventing flea eggs or larvae from developing into adults. However, these products do nothing for the animal that already has fleas preying on their blood and making them miserable. The very best thing you can do is to spend the money and put your animal on a flea and tick preventative, such as Frontline Plus, Revolution or Advantage.

In the end it will cost you far less then if you have to treat your pet for flea anemia, flea infestation of your pet and your home, and treatment if your pet has hair loss. Better to use these monthly treatments from May through October and provide the best protection available against fleas for your pet and your home.

I am going to touch on Giardia because it has become a more common problem in the last few years. This is an intestinal infection of both human and animals (usually cats), so it causes concern for yourself and your children. It is caused by a protozoal parasite called Giardia intestinalis. It is widely known as the source of "traveler’s diarrhea." These single-celled parasites are not to be confused with the common intestinal parasites that we know so well – round worms, tapeworm, etc.

Infection is relatively rare in animals with good immune systems. It is more common in densely-populated groups of animals, such as in a cattery, pet store, or animal shelter. Also, kittens have been shown to shed more Giardia cysts in their feces than older cats.

These microscopic parasites attach themselves to the intestinal wall and cause an acute (sudden-onset) foul-smelling diarrhea. The stool may range from soft to watery, and occasionally contains blood. Infected cats tend to have excess mucus in the feces. It is really pretty ugly and if you see this you pretty much can know it is giardia. Ingestion of the cyst stage of the parasite leads to infection. Many cats get giardia from drinking water, which has been contaminated.

Once inside the cat's intestine, the cyst goes through several stages of maturation, and the cat is able to pass infective cysts in the stool, where they can contaminate the environment and infect other cats. The problem with Giardia is that kittens and older cats are at risk for death from dehydration associated with the diarrhea. So it is important to have your pet tested – and not just by a routine flotation test.

There is a special solution that is needed to accurately diagnose Giardia. There could be a delay of several days as the test is only performed in select laboratories however, most vets will go ahead and treat for Giardia if the indications are there in the stool.

Treatment is generally easy as far as only needing an oral medication for five to seven days. However, Metronidazole is the drug most commonly used to treat Giardia and it has a terrible taste so after the first time it is generally quite a feat to actually pill the cat for those many days. The only thing to remember is to practice caution as Giardiasis is the most common intestinal parasitic infection of a human.

Very seldom will it be passed through you dog or cat – it is usually passed in cities that do not have water treatment facilities with a sand infiltration system. For environmental disinfection, a cup of chlorine bleach in a gallon of water is effective. Be sure that the surfaces and premises can be safely treated with bleach.

Later on this month I will also talk about the myths and facts about ringworm (which is not a worm). But for now, get your pets protected from the bugs of summer.

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