Anybody who reads our blogs or is a client of ours knows that our goal at Westway Animal Clinic is always to minimize risk of disease and focus on prevention. It is impossible to talk about preventive care and not discuss parasites, so our April blog is on two very common parasites – fleas and ticks.
Migration patterns of hosts, unseasonably warm winters alongside a changing climate, and travel of people and their pets are all factors that play a part in why we, in our Etobicoke clinic, are seeing an increase in the number of tick cases. It is important to me that I take this opportunity to discuss the parasites themselves, as well as the control and prevention. If you think there is no risk in your neighbourhood I would urge you to visit this new website designed to show where heartworm, Lyme and other tick-borne diseases are most prevalent (according to positive testing of these diseases in dogs). It is a fun site geared towards helping the whole family understand more about ticks and prevention – they even show how to check for, and remove, a tick. That said, if you do find a tick on your pet, call us right away as we have a great tool to help you remove them easily and will provide one to our clients free of charge.
Traditionally we used the terminology “Heartworm Season” and classified June to November as the window in which we use preventative medications against, not only heartworm, but fleas and ticks as well. A lot has changed and we are facing a situation where fleas and ticks are making year-round appearances. While heartworm is transmitted by mosquito (pests we really don’t see during the winter months), the unusually warm winter brought with it flea and tick cases – at our own clinic we saw cases in December, February, March and already in April (only 3 days in!). This past March we documented 4 cases of ticks on dogs who did not have a travel history. They picked up these ticks locally and, it goes to prove that we do have ticks in our neighbourhood – waiting for the right dog or cat to come by! There is a misconception that cats (particularly indoor cats) are not susceptible to infestation by fleas and other parasites but this is simply untrue. Cats should be treated, just like dogs, with a preventative medication as becoming infested can be both dangerous for their health, costly to treat. At the end of the day, having any type of creepy crawly living on our pets, let alone infesting our homes and potentially biting us as well, is something any pet owner would want to try and avoid!
Below are some common questions we hear from our clients – we wanted to address these so that you would have a better understanding for yourself of when and how to protect your pet.
“Is it really necessary to use flea and tick control year-round? Even in the winter?”
Yes. Many kinds of ticks can live well into the fall, even in areas that see a good bit of snow; ticks will survive and emerge during any unseasonably warmer days. Once fleas are indoors, they can hatch and climb on a pet any time of year.
“Aren’t ticks only a problem in certain areas of the country, and fleas only a nuisance?”
The geographic range of ticks has been spreading; more and more pets are at real risk, and it is important to stress that both ticks and fleas can transmit disease to pets or cause other complications that can be difficult and expensive to treat. It is also an issue that spreads to humans – if your pet has been in an area where ticks are present, it means you have as well.
In 2015, 16 new risk zones were identified in Ontario and according to the Toronto Star in November 2015, Public Health data showed 304 confirmed cases and 54 probable cases of Lyme disease were reported in humans in Ontario between January and November 2015. In 2014, 149 cases were confirmed and 71 were probable.
As most of our clients are aware, we urge every pet owner to test for heartworm and tick-borne diseases annually. Statistics from one veterinary laboratory indicate that, of the dogs tested in 2012, there were 91 dogs in Ontario who tested positive for Lyme disease. Compare that to the results from dogs tested in 2015 when at least 900 dogs across Ontario tested positive. This is significant proof of how quickly we are seeing the risk to all pets increase.
“Our pet is only outside for walks and therefore is not at risk for parasites.”
Fleas and ticks can be found outside, even in urban areas. Other dogs or cats in the neighbourhood, and even wildlife, may carry fleas or ticks. It only takes a single flea to begin an infestation, or a single tick to transmit a tick-borne disease.
“We live in the country, and there are no other dogs where we live.”
Just like dogs and cats, wildlife such as white-tailed deer, possums, raccoons and coyotes can serve as hosts for fleas and ticks. Long grass, leaf-litter, or shrubs provide excellent environments for fleas and ticks.
“Flea and tick control products cost too much to use year-round.”
While our situation is not as bad as in certain parts of the country, this 2015-16 winter is making many South-western Ontario veterinarians re-consider how we tackle prevention. If we continue to see these parasites year-round as we did this year, it is inevitable that our recommendations will reflect this ever present threat.
At this time, we strongly recommend year-round flea and tick control, because the cost of controlling these parasites is a fraction of the costs associated with treating tick-borne disease or a flea infestation.
“Are there less expensive products to use?”
Occasionally we are presented with a situation where a pet owner has used an over-the-counter pet store flea treatment (like a spot-on, collar or spray) on their pet causing rashes, seizures and sometimes even death.
These products can be quite dangerous if used incorrectly and most are not safe for cats. We appreciate the need to manage costs with respect to preventive care and ensure our prices are extremely competitive; when purchased from us and used as recommended, our flea and tick control products are fully backed by the manufacturer. Our goal is to help protect as many pets as we can. Ultimately, we want to work with each of our clients to allow them to be the best pet owners while navigating their budgets and other lifestyle factors. We carry a range of products that we have researched and believe in so that we can accommodate and customize our protocol for every client and pet we meet. If you have questions on what the pets in your household may require, please don’t hesitate to call our team at Westway Animal Clinic.