Drugs for Bugs

As we trade our skis and skates for bikes and boots, our animals are entering the most dangerous time of year for parasitic disease. Many parasites affect pets, but the two I am asked most about are fleas and heartworms. Here’s the skinny.

I saw very few cases of fleas in the early 2000s, but in the last few years the number of incidents has skyrocketed. People often think fleas can’t survive cold, altitude, or dry climates like Bozeman’s. They can! I see them every year. They are transmitted by contact from one haired animal to another.

Unless your animal has a thick undercoat or abnormally long hair, the fleas are relatively easy to kill. The problem is that they are extremely difficult to rid from the area your pet lives in, which for most of us is our bed. For every one flea you see on your dog or cat, there are fourteen in their environment. The more animals that are exposed in Bozeman, the more homes, cars, and backyards there are that become seeded with fleas. My recommendation is to not bring them home in the first place. There are many topical preventives, but stick to the prescription-strength products and away from collars or over-the-counter look-a-likes that aren’t as effective.

Heartworms affect dogs and in some cases cats, and are transmitted by mosquitoes. We are lucky not to have too many blood-suckers here, but there are a few in the region, especially for those lucky dogs spending afternoons sleeping in the bottoms of drift boats.

Mosquitoes must bite an infected dog and then bite yours in order for transmission to occur. A mosquito's range can be a mile and a half square, so if you live in the center of a 3,600 acre ranch and never leave, you’re safe. If not, I recommend protection.

Unlike flea infestations, heartworm disease is fatal if left untreated. It usually takes an average of three years to see clinical symptoms of heart failure, so early detection—or better yet safe prevention—is critical. You should have your dog's blood tested each spring. It only takes a few minutes to get the results. If they are negative give your dog a preventive treatment throughout summer and fall. You can either use a chewable medication that is given once per month or a single injection that lasts six months. Over 75% of my clients prevent heartworm disease, and because of that commitment we have enjoyed a relatively stable number of new cases in Gallatin Valley. In other areas of the state where prevention is not practiced, susceptibility is everywhere. As a result, the number of new cases is exponential and the risk is certain.

Jon Stites practices veterinary medicine at 360 Pet Medical on E. Main (360petmedical.com; 551-2360).