Why are there so many different flea and tick products for our pets? Well, the answer is actually fairly complex for something that you would think is so simple! The pet, the flea life cycle, and the environment are all major factors in the convoluted cycle of flea prevention.
Each pet that is on flea or flea and tick preventative has its own unique circumstance. The species, breed, age, weight, health of your pet and the environment all play an important role in determining the best product to use. Cats should not use dog products. Additionally, some preventatives can cause serious toxic effects on sick pets, certain breeds of pets, or even very young pets. If you are dealing with a severe infestation of fleas versus trying to prevent a flea problem, this will also help to determine the proper product(s) you will use for your pet. Keep the fleas from making you and your pet’s lives miserable. Discuss options with your veterinarian to help you to choose the safest and most effective flea and tick preventatives for your pet.
The flea life cycle is highly variable and can be as short as two weeks, to as long as two years. It is important to remain vigilant even when you think the problem is under control. The adult fleas have three pairs of legs and are known for their ability to jump. The adult flea lives on host animals – cats, dogs, humans, etc. Fleas eat blood from the animal and then defecate on the animal. The dark black-brown specs are often referred to as “flea dirt” and is the product of digested blood. The saliva of the adult flea can be very irritating to some animals resulting in severe hypersensitivity, hair loss, redness of skin, ulceration, crusting, and itching of the skin. Adult female fleas can lay up to 50 eggs per day. That’s 1500 eggs from 1 female per month! The eggs fall off the host animal into carpet, bedding, floorboards, and soil. The eggs hatch anywhere from 2 days to a few weeks. After hatching, it becomes a larva and then a pupa. In the pupa stage, it can hatch to an adult as soon as 3 days or it can remain for in the environment for years until conditions are right before it will hatch. Warm temperatures, humidity and even vibrations will stimulate the pupa to emerge.
Only 10% of the flea population lives on your pet. The flea eggs, larvae, pupa and few adults living in your carpet, bedding and back yard make up the other 90% of the flea population. Without addressing these areas, flea infestation will continue to be a problem.
Vacuum Daily – this removes eggs, larva, pupa and adults from the environment. Empty bags and dispose of them frequently.
Clean – Wash all bedding, vacuum couches at least once weekly.
Yard/Home – Flea bombs, foggers or professional exterminators should be used to kill all flea stages in the environment.
Flea products eliminate fleas by affecting the various stages of the flea life cycle. Some products kill the adults, others prevent the egg from hatching, while others affect the larva making them unable to spin a cocoon and then die. No single method or insecticide will completely eradicate a flea problem. By selecting products that strategically affect the different stages of the flea life cycle, it is easy for a flea prevention program to be successful.
Flea shampoos- Helps to remove fleas and flea dirt, but there is little to no residual effect. Only effective for a day or less.
Flea Dips – Typically given by a groomer or veterinarian as the chemicals are stronger. Removes fleas, mites, and ticks. Residual effects may last up to 1 week.
Flea Collars – Work by either emitting a toxic gas to the fleas or by being absorbed into the animal’s skin fat layers. Most over the counter flea collars emit the toxic gas and are only effective in the immediate area of the head and neck.
Flea Powders & Sprays – Provide short term protection of only 2-3 days by killing adult fleas.
Spot-on treatments – Products are applied between the shoulders to the pet’s skin and lasts for about one month. Frontline, Revolution, Vectra 3D, Advantage, Advantix, etc. These products are effective for adult fleas and some include ingredients to inhibit larva from hatching and some are against larval development. Some of these products can also repel or kill ticks.
Oral medications – Products such as Sentinel work by stopping the larva form hatching from the flea egg. Fleas ingest the blood from animals on the medication and eggs that are laid by the females can not hatch. Sentinel is given every month. Another oral product called Capstar works by killing adult fleas on a pet within 30 minutes. Capstar does not have any long lasting activity.
With all of these variables to take into consideration regarding your pet, the flea, the environment and the numerous available products, the decision can be daunting! Consult with your veterinarian to help you pick the safest and most effective flea prevention program for you and your pet!
-Dr. Alison Powers, DVM
Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) is a parasitic disease affecting dogs and cats. For the purpose of this article, I will be focusing on canine heartworm disease. This severe and sometimes fatal disease is transmitted to your pet by the bite of a mosquito infected by the heartworm. When an infected mosquito bites the animal, the heartworm larvae migrate through the broken skin and into the vasculature [circulatory system]. The larvae develop into sexually mature adult heartworms over the next 6-7 months. Female adult heartworms can reach up to 10-12cm in length! The heartworm lifespan is 5-7 years. As the name implies, adult heartworms reside in the cardiac [heart] and pulmonary [lung] vasculature. Adult female heartworms produce microfilariae (juvenile heartworms) and release them into circulation. These microfilariae act as a reservoir and can then be picked up by mosquitoes that bite an infected animal.
There is a wide spectrum of clinical signs that infected dogs can display. Severity of clinical signs depends on the number of heartworms, how long the dog has been infected with heartworms, the age of the dog, and the activity of the dog. Early, mild infections may show no clinical signs at all. Other infected dogs may have a cough, exercise intolerance, dyspnea (difficulty breathing), heart murmurs, abnormal lung sounds, ascites (accumulation of abdominal fluid), and liver dysfunction.
Several diagnostic tests are utilized to aid in diagnosis of heartworm disease and determine the severity of disease. The most common diagnostic test is an antigen test. An antigen is a substance that causes an immune response, typically a protein. This test detects an antigen associated with the adult female heartworm. As you remember from the introduction, adult heartworms take 6-7 months to develop after an infected mosquito bites your dog. For this reason, puppies younger than 7 months old do not need to be tested for heartworm disease. In rare instances, an infected dog that has a single sex heartworm infection of only male heartworms will have a negative antigen test. This test is recommended on an annual basis.
In the event that your dog tests positive on their annual screening test, a second test should be performed to confirm the diagnosis. The antigen test is very accurate, but no test is 100% perfect. Other diagnostics that may be performed by your veterinarian is testing for microfilariae, radiography, or echogardiography. Thoracic (chest) radiographs help determine the severity of disease and help develop a prognosis. Echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart) aids in determining the extent of heart involvement and enlargement associated with the disease.
Treatment of heartworm disease is directed at killing the adult heartworms and eliminating microfilariae. The traditional heartworm preventatives work by killing the microfilariae stage of heartworms. If your dog is diagnosed with heartworm disease, your veterinarian will likely start your dog on the preventative prior to administering the adulticide treatment. Prior to adulticide treatment, it is recommended that most dogs be started on corticosteroids to limit their immune response to dying adult worms.
Melarsomine dihydrochloride is the drug used to eliminate adult heartworms. There are two different protocols for this drug. Your veterinarian will determine the most appropriate protocol for your dog. As with any treatment, there are risks. The largest risk posed is the development of pulmonary thromboembolism. This is caused by dead heartworm obstructing the pulmonary arteries and veins. Clinical signs of pulmonary thromboembolism include coughing, coughing up blood, exercise intolerance, and sudden death. For this reason, if your dog is being treated for heartworm disease, it is imperative that all dogs are not exercised during treatment. Any dog being treated for heartworm disease should be tested 4-6 months post treatment.
As the old adage goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” While adulticide treatment of heartworms is usually effective, preventative is relatively inexpensive and wise. The macrocyclic lactones are the class of drug used in heartworm preventatives. The active ingredient, application, and label claim of each drug is different. Available macrocyclic lactone preventatives include:
- Ivermectin (Heartgard, Iverhart, Tri-Heart)
- Selamectin (Revolution)
- Moxidectin (Advantage multi and the 6 month slow release injection, ProHeart 6)
As always, before initiating heartworm preventative or treatment, please consult with your veterinarian to decide which choice is most appropriate for your pet. For more information, please visit the American Heartworm Society’s website at: www.heartwormsociety.org
Ashley Yanchik, VMD
Early Spay/Neuter Testimonials
Kittens and puppies recover from surgery much quicker than adult animals. They have less body fat, so there is less tissue to cut through, making the surgery itself faster. The shorter surgery time means less anesthesia, and combined with a kitten’s or puppy’s fast metabolism, it makes for a quick recovery and many will be up and playing the same day of surgery. Kittens and puppies can be spayed or neutered as early as 8 weeks and 2 pounds. During kitten and puppy season more than half of the animals we spay/neuter are five months old or younger (we average 260 total animals a week), and we routinely spay/neuter our shelter animals at 8 weeks old. From experience, we know that kittens and puppies also have lower rates of post-operative complications.
There are also health benefits to spaying by 5 months of age. By fixing pets before puberty (which occurs in cats as early as 4 months, and in dogs around 6 months), you ensure that females never have a first heat cycle. Every heat cycle increases an animal’s chance of developing mammary tumors, which is like breast cancer in people. Female dogs are four times as likely as humans to develop mammary cancer, which is often fatal. By spaying before the first heat, you can almost completely eliminate the chances of your pet ever developing this cancer. Spaying and neutering before puberty also reduces the chances your pet will start urine marking; females may do this when in heat, and males tend to start this territorial behavior at puberty. Males also tend to want to roam in search of a female to mate with, so neutering before sexual maturity will reduce this hormone-related behavior.
Finally, a kitten or puppy spayed or neutered before puberty will never produce an accidental litter. More than half of litters born to pets are unintended, and each litter contributes to pet overpopulation. Overall, we recommend spaying or neutering by 5 months of age.
APL S/N Clinic
Advise: The campaign for encouraging “Beat the Heat” by spaying the younger pups and kittens by 5 months is based on now 20+ years of studies and evaluation and, yes, rancorous discussions of what was called early age sterilization. Those who hold to the old mantra of six months or over are simply uninformed of the knowledge and the inevitable damage caused by unintended, unplanned, and unwanted pregnancies. Now advising anything over five months is tantamount to malpractice.
W. Marvin Mackie, D.V.M., retired
Practice limited to spay/neuter clinics
from 1976 – 2008.
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