Fleas, ticks and mosquitoes can make our pets itch and scratch. But did you know that each one of these pests can transmit serious diseases to your pets -- and to you as well?
In a pet with flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), even one flea bite can cause a cascading reaction of itching, irritation and secondary bacterial infection. Far from being a rare overreaction to fleas, FAD is the most common allergic skin disorder in pets. And allergic or not, all pets can be infected with tapeworm from the bite of a flea. Fleas can also bite humans, and a few fleas can lead to a complete infestation of your carpets, bedding, upholstery and yard.
Once it's in full bloom, a flea infestation can be extremely difficult to eradicate.
And what about mosquitoes? These pests make people itch, but their risk to pets goes far beyond discomfort. Mosquitoes can transmit heartworms, a parasite that's a serious problem in dogs and increasingly in cats (even indoor cats). Many cases of feline asthma and bronchitis are now thought to be caused by heartworm infection. Heartworm disease can be debilitating, lengthy, difficult and expensive to treat, but it's easy to prevent with medication from your veterinarian. More information on canine and feline heartworm disease can be found at www.heartwormsociety.org.
Probably the most dangerous of all the pests that afflict our pets is the tick. Ticks can spread Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and babesiosis. These immune-system disorders can be hard to diagnose and difficult to treat. Because their symptoms can mimic so many other diseases, they are often not detected until well advanced, at which time it can be too late.
Symptoms of tick-borne diseases include fevers, lameness that can shift from limb to limb, difficulty breathing, lethargy and not eating. Ticks can be as tiny as the period at the end of this sentence, so relying on combing or hand-searching to control ticks is not effective. Worse, removing them by hand can increase the likelihood they'll transmit disease to your pets.
Even if your dog has been vaccinated against canine Lyme disease, don't let up on the tick-prevention effort. There are no vaccines for any of the other, even more dangerous tick diseases. Many ticks carry multiple diseases and can transmit more than one at the time they bite your dog.
Your veterinarian can detect canine heartworm disease, Lyme disease, and two other tick-borne diseases (ehrlichiosis canis and anaplasmosis) with a single, in-house test. This diagnostic tool is important to detect diseases that, left untreated, can cause life-threatening illness in dogs.
Given the seriousness of the diseases spread by ticks, fleas and mosquitoes, there's no question that prevention is the best course. In the past, pet owners had to rely on messy, time-consuming and non-environmentally friendly dips, bombs and sprays. Those days are gone with the introduction of topical preventives that repel and kill fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. Some even control internal parasites and ear mites.
Diseases carried by parasites vary from region to region, although in today's increasingly mobile society that's less true. Talk to your veterinarian about the problems in your area and about the products that can protect your pet.
When using those products, be careful: Most bad reactions occur when people don't follow label directions, such as using canine products on cats or not using the proper dosage. Follow up with your veterinarian immediately if you have questions or if your pet seems to be having a reaction.
Pets, planes and airport security
Q: Regarding your recent column on flying with pets, will you let readers know about the risk of losing a pet in the airport?
Most people don't realize that if they take a pet as carry-on baggage, they'll have to take the pet out of the carrier and hold the animal while the carrier itself goes through screening. I found this out the hard way with a cat who hates to be held!
Everyone who takes a pet aboard a plane as carry-on luggage should have a harness and leash in place to avoid having the animal take off running through the airport. -- J.P., via e-mail
A: You're absolutely right. While a small dog having a bit of a freak-out at the airport can probably be held firmly and without too much difficulty, a cat in full flight-or-fight mode can really create a dangerous scene. That's why your suggestion is important: Make sure any pet -- but especially a cat -- is equipped with a harness and leash before removing the animal from the carrier at the airport screening station.
I've flown with pets as carry-ons a few times and have put larger pets in cargo a few times more -- never (knock on wood) with any problems whatsoever. I've always found airline staff to be caring, helpful and understanding of the needs and worries of pet lovers.
One myth about flying with pets that just won't go away is the assumption that pets need to be routinely tranquilized for flights. Not only is this not true, but it's also dangerous. Tranquilizing limits the ability of their bodies to function normally, and they need all that ability to cope with the stress of flight.
The default mode for pet air travel should be no tranquilizers, although there are exceptions, so a preflight talk with the veterinarian is a must. (You'll need to be there for a preflight health certificate anyway.)
Maybe we think pets should be tranquilized because we wish we were? It sure would make the flights seem faster for us, wouldn't it?
Talking to the airline for pet reservations and conditions also is a must, as is checking en route for any pets traveling in cargo holds. With all precautions in place, air travel with pets should go smoothly -- and it usually does. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Unwanted pet pigs
end up in shelters
-- Pot-bellied pigs are ending up in shelters by the thousands, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Promised to be 40 to 60 pounds by breeders, many of these pigs grow much, much larger, with many ranging in size from 150 to 300 pounds. Pig sanctuaries are overflowing with at least 300,000 of the animals, who are also given up because of their their high need for specialized care and lots of attention, for destructive behavior and noise, and because many areas prohibit pigs as pets, a fact usually not discovered until after the animal has been purchased.
-- The nutritional information on the back of pet food bags may not be reliable when it comes to portion size.The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University did a study on 100 commercially available weight-management diets and found problems with labels regarding recommended feeding and the kilocalories consumed per serving. The label issues may make it more difficult for pets to lose weight.
-- Graduating veterinary students will be relieved of some of their school debt, up to $25,000 of student loan debt per year, if they sign up for a U.S. Department of Agriculture program intended to get more veterinarians into rural areas, where the need for large-animal and food-animal care is becoming a matter of national concern. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and more. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Make nail trims feline-friendly
Want to avoid a tussle when it comes to trimming the claws on your cat? Don't trim them until you can massage your cat's paws gently during lap time. As you massage a paw with one hand, offer an irresistible treat in the other. Make the procedure as pleasant as possible -- for both of you.
Timing and size matters when you start nail trims. A relaxed cat is more likely to be a cooperative one. Go for quality, not quantity. Trim only one nail each day and take off only the tip. If you cut down to the quick -- the living tissue closest to the paw -- it will hurt. And if you cause your pet pain, you won't get much cooperation in the future.
So be careful, and be positive. If done carefully, your cat may not hold out his paw for a nail trim, but he won't mind much if the whole experience is a pleasant one. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp, AnimalBehavior.net
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Skin conditions common
More than one-fifth of all claims submitted to the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. were for skin conditions. Parasites and allergies were often given as the causes for the misery. The top complaints:
1. Atopic/allergic dermatitis (itchy or inflammed skin)
2. Pyoderma/hotspots (lick lesions or moist sore spots)
3. Neoplasia, or benign skin cancer.
Daily cleaning for pet dishes
No matter how thoroughly your pet licks clean the food dish, it's not clean enough to use again without washing. That goes for water dishes, too. I've seen water dishes in some homes with the beginnings of algae colonies forming on the sides and the bottom -- who'd want to drink from that?
Pick up your pet's food dish after every meal, scrub and wash in hot water and soap. The water dish should get the same treatment, on a daily basis.
Better still, run them through the hottest cycle of the dishwasher to get them really clean and sterilized. Stainless steel or heavy plastic "crock-style" dishes are best for frequent cleaning: They last forever and stand up well to the abuse a pet can dish out. I have stainless steel pet dishes that still look good after more than two decades of use. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.