With summer comes sun and fun, but for pets, the season can also bring a spike in unwanted visitors – fleas, ticks and mosquitoes.
Local veterinarians agree fleas and ticks are as prominent this year as they were last, with last year being a notably bad year.
“I would say it’s about like it was last year,” said Dr. James Ivey of Coosa Valley Animal Clinic in Sylacauga. “They’re bad, and last year was a bad year too.”
The number of fleas in any given area is largely dependent upon climate, Ivey said, as fleas and other insects thrive in moist environments.
“The amount of rain we get in the spring and summer has a lot to do with it,” Ivey said. “It can get too dry outside for the fleas. They need a certain amount of moisture in the environment to complete their life cycle. This year, they’re getting plenty of rain.”
Ivey said he sees treats fleas daily and is also seeing an influx of issues related to flea allergies, like hair loss, itchiness and hot spots.
“We see a lot of allergic reactions to the fleas,” he said. “In those dogs that are allergic, it only takes one flea to cause a reaction. It doesn’t take 1,000. Often, the flea is gone by the time you see the results of the bite.”
Along with fleas and ticks, a particularly bad mosquito season last year may be leading to an increase in canine heartworms, according to Dr. Sarah Smith of Sleeping Giant Veterinary Clinic in Talladega.
“So far, fleas and ticks are no worse this year than they were last year,” Smith said. “I seem to be seeing more dogs with heartworms this year, and that would have to do with the mosquito population last fall causing them to show up with heartworms this year.”
Heartworm larvae spread through mosquito bites. When an animal is bitten by an infected mosquito, larvae grow and mature in its heart and lungs and eventually spread to the bloodstream. While dogs are the most common victim, heartworms may infect more than 30 species, including cats, according to the American Heartworm Society.
Prevention medicines for fleas, ticks and heartworms should be given to pets monthly, according to Ivey and Smith, and there are a variety of good tablets and topical creams available. Ivey cited Nexguard and Comfortis as the most popular and effective for flea and tick care.
Along with monthly prevention, caring for the environment in which a pet lives is equally important, Ivey said.
“Where you’ve got a yard infested with fleas, your house is going to get infested with fleas,” he said. “You’ve got to do something about the environment if anything else is going to work.”
Ivey recommends contacting an exterminator to occasionally spray your home and yard. He said it is important to specify that you want fleas treated, because that may change the pesticides used. Smith said there are also pesticides available from lawn and garden supply stores that homeowners can spray themselves.
“It is important to treat all of your animals for fleas and ticks at the same time and also occasionally treat the house and the yard,” Smith said. “You also need to check pets for ticks after they go out in the grass, especially if it’s tall grass or bushes. Pets that are out more and exposed to areas where other wildlife may be are more likely to pick them up.”
Other summer care includes providing plenty of water and a nice, shady spot for your pet to retreat from the sun.
“I have seen heat strokes in dogs that didn’t have access to water,” Ivey said. “They actually drink water as part of their cooling mechanism, as well as for hydration.”
Smith suggests bringing pets inside to cool down every now and then and limiting their outdoor activity to the coolest time of the day.
Smith said fleas could become worse as the summer and fall seasons progress, so pet owners should continue to monitor these pestering insects.
“Generally, if you have done your regular at-home treatments and you are still noticing a problem, it’s time to take them to a veterinarian,” Smith said.