Fleas, ticks and heartworm are no longer just a concern in warmer climates and the spring/summer months. Climate change is affecting wildlife habitats and the world we live in, which means it’s also affecting the lives of our pets.
NASA recently reported that 2015 was the hottest recorded year since records were first kept 136 years ago, with the average annual temperature now up to 58.62 degrees. This temperature increase is affecting everything from animal’s hibernation habits to the spread of mosquitoes – pests that used to be found only in certain areas and in warmer weather, but now carrying diseases to every US state.
Pet parents should be aware of what these changes mean, and take preventative care measures. Consider that while fleas and ticks are getting smaller in size, there are more of them and they’re causing problems even in what used to be considered the colder months. Flea season is longer now.
The dangerous disease heartworm is spread by mosquitoes, and is now found all year long and in every state. Dr. Gregory Ebel is a professor and specialist in infectious diseases at the veterinary school of Colorado State University in Fort Collins. He thinks it’s a no-brainer to prevent heartworms – no matter where you live – by giving your dog a heartworm pill every month. His advice is to “prevent, not regret.”
Heartworm disease can lead to congestive heart failure. The heartworms are thin, spaghetti-like worms that can grow up to a foot long and live in the dog’s heart. Even if your dog doesn’t spend a lot of time outside, without treatment there’s a chance for infection because heartworm is common. The infection starts when the dog is bitten by a mosquito carrying the heartworm larvae. In a few months that larvae becomes a worm that travels through the animal’s bloodstream to the heart ventricle, lungs and pulmonary arteries. A heartworm can live for five to seven years, and dogs with a heavy infestation could have as many as 250 worms. But even a few are too many.
Curing heartworm is possible, but it’s also costly and often only works well for dogs that are otherwise healthy and contract only mild to moderate forms of the disease. Elderly dogs and those with other health issues have a worse prognosis and can die from heart or respiratory failure.
Initially there are no symptoms but as the worms reproduce, crowding the heart and lungs, the dog will develop a cough. As the disease progresses, exercise becomes more difficult and the dog will become winded more easily. When heartworm is serious, you may hear abnormal lung sounds, and the dog will retain fluids, and might even pass out from the loss of blood flow to the brain.
Dogs can get heartworm infection only from the bite of an infected mosquito.
This is tragic and so unnecessary when there are many preventative treatments available, so be sure to talk to your vet.
The best treatment is always prevention! Many products are FDA-approved to prevent heartworms in dogs, and all require a veterinarian’s prescription. Some heartworm medications contain ingredients that are also effective against roundworms and hookworms, or against other parasites such as fleas, ticks, and ear mites.
This climate change to warmer temperatures has also affected the flea and tick population. Fleas used to be a seasonal problem, but now they show up all year long. There are more of them, they eat more often, and pet owners need to be more vigilant in protecting their pets.
The same is true for ticks – bugs that are most active in warmer months. Ticks cause Lyme disease in both humans and dogs. With record-setting highs in many parts of the country this year, the calendar offers no guidance on when pet parents might expect them. That makes it important to check your pet for ticks regularly, and to speak to your veterinarian about pest repellent products that are safe to use.
If you suspect a problem, have your veterinarian check your dog as soon as possible.