How Climate Change Impacts the Health of Our Pets

USA Today recently published an interesting article about all the different ways warming temperatures have a negative effect on the health of our dogs, cats, and other pets.

According to veterinary epidemiologists interviewed for the article, certain diseases, many of them spread by parasites, are moving into geographic areas not previously affected by them.

Here’s a brief rundown, but be sure to click the link above to read the full story.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

This is a bacterial illness spread by ticks.  Historically, it has been carried by the American dog tick.  Veterinarians are now reporting that this disease is being spread north by a new type of tropical tick (called the brown dog tick) that came to the US from South America.

Heartworm

Heartworm is a serious disease that is passed on to our pets through mosquito bites.  The worm larvae mature at faster rates in warmer temperatures.  Heartworm was traditionally a problem in the southern part of the US, but is now moving into other parts of the country that haven’t seen it before.

Lyme Disease

Like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme disease is also spread by ticks…usually the deer tick (also called the black legged tick).  Veterinarians report that Lyme disease is now moving north from the US into Canada.  The transmission season for Lyme and other diseases also gets longer as temperatures stay warmer for longer periods of time.

The article notes that climate change affects how these diseases are spread in multiple ways.  Besides the normal movement of parasites further north as temperatures warm, there are other ways they seem to be spreading.

One of the most significant is the movement of infected shelter pets from one part of the country to another.  This happens in the wake of climate-influenced natural disasters like hurricanes, tornados, and wildfires when displaced pets are relocated.

More shelter pets are also being transported around the country because there’s a greater demand for shelter pets as the sale of dogs and cats in retail pet stores is being banned in more places around the US.

Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about the best ways to protect your pets from parasite borne illnesses in your area!

 

Parasite Infection Risk Increases for Outdoor Cats

Cats allowed to roam outdoors face a variety of health risks, from getting hit by cars and attacked by other animals to an increased risk for infection by internal and external parasites.

A recent study of parasite infection rates for outdoor cats vs. indoor cats around the world has led to some interesting findings.

Cats allowed to roam outdoors are 2.77 times more likely to become infected with parasites than indoor only cats.  The surprise finding in this study relates to what parts of the globe parasite infection risks are highest.

You might think that cats in warmer climates have an increased risk of parasite infection because there tends to be a greater concentration of parasites in these warmer places.

In reality, the opposite was found to be true:  infection rates decrease with higher parasite diversity, and cats in northern climates are a greater risk for infection.  Risk of infection goes up a surprising 4% with each degree of increase in latitude.

Why is this?  The researchers note that rodents (a common feline prey animal) and other species of wildlife display similar increased infection rates.

Experts recommend that cat owners restrict access to the outdoors for their pets, both to preserve their cats’ overall health and well-being, and also to reduce the risk of parasite transmission to humans.

 

Side Effects of Flea and Tick Spot Treatments

The warm spring weather means that flea and tick season is coming!  Topical spot products are the preferred treatment for many dog and cat owners.  When used correctly, they can be very safe and effective.

But it is possible that your individual pet may experience an adverse skin reaction to the treatment.

Here’s an overview of the most common reactions, courtesy of the Veterinary Information Network:

Epidermal paresthesia:  This is a fancy term for an itching, prickling, or burning sensation on the skin.  This reaction is most common with spot treatments that contain pyrethroids.  The itching can start minutes after treatment and last as long as 24 hours.

The skin looks normal with paresthesia, but you will notice behavior changes in your pets if they feel uncomfortable.

Contact dermatitis:  This skin condition occurs when your pet develops an inflammatory reaction to the spot product.  Your pet’s skin will look red and irritated at the application site.  In severe cases, the skin may blister.  The reaction time is more delayed than with paresthesia.

Wash off the product and seek veterinary care if the skin does not improve after the product is removed.

What should you do if your dog or cat has a reaction to a spot treatment?  Veterinary experts recommend that you discontinue use of the product.  You can try another treatment that uses different active ingredients and monitor your pet for signs of a reaction.

Important reminder:  Certain canine flea and tick spot treatments can be very toxic to cats, especially those containing permethrin.  Permethrin can cause life-threatening neurological damage in cats.  Never use canine treatments on cats.

If your pet experiences an adverse reaction to a spot treatment, you can report it to the manufacturer as well as to the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency if you live in the U.S.

 

 

April is Heartworm Awareness Month

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, heartworm is a potentially serious (even fatal) parasite that affects dogs, cats, and pets such as ferrets.  In the wild, heartworm is found in many animals, including foxes, raccoons, and opossums.

Mosquitoes transfer the heartworm parasite from animal to animal, usually in the form of larvae.  The larvae mature in animals and adults can reach lengths of up to 14 inches. Worms affect the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of infected animals.

If male and female heartworms are present in your pet’s body, they can reproduce and create new larvae.  The larvae can also affect your pet’s immune system.

Heartworm can be found all over the US and in other parts of the world.  Many pet owners think heartworm is a canine problem, but cats can also become infected.  Exposure to mosquito bites is a major risk factor.

Your veterinarian can perform tests to detect the presence of heartworm in your pet.  Early detection is key to successful treatment.  Treatment can be challenging as it involves killing the parasites and then managing your dog’s response.  Treatment for cats can be even more difficult.

The good news is that heartworm is preventable!  Your vet will test for the presence of heartworm before providing preventives.  Ongoing testing is important to ensure that your pet has not become infected.

You can learn more about heartworm prevention on the American Heartworm Society’s website.

 

 

Health and Safety Tips for Camping and Hiking with Your Dog

With the warm spring weather just around the corner, many outdoorsy dog owners are already planning this season’s outside adventures!

The American Veterinary Medical Association has created a series of disease prevention tips for dog owners who take their pets hiking, backpacking, and camping.

Here are some highlights, but be sure to check out the AVMA website for the full list!

  • Make sure your dog is up to date on all her vaccines, especially rabies.
  • Avoid feeding your dog raw or undercooked meat while camping.
  • Report signs of sick wildlife to your state fish and game agency, and never let your dog consume dead wildlife.
  • Wash cooking tools and equipment thoroughly and wash your hands between handling animals, equipment, and food.

  • Apply flea and tick prevention treatments to your dog and avoid areas known to be tick infested. Check your dog for ticks often.
  • Carry a pet first aid kit in addition to a human first aid kit, and consider getting some basic pet first aid training.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about getting stool samples from your dog checked for intestinal parasites.