Don't Gamble When You Ramble
April is both Heartworm Awareness Month as well as Lyme Disease in Dogs Prevention Month. Originally, when I began writing this article, I had gathered a huge quantity of statistics and data so that I could make a case for protecting your fur-kids from these dreaded and possibly debilitating and deadly diseases. But, whoa, after the first paragraph, I nearly nodded off! So, rewrite....
The fact is, as pet parents, most of us are likely already aware of the risk these two particularly nasty diseases pose to our fur-kids. For those of us living here in Southwestern Ontario, climate change is actually creating the perfect conditions for those risks to worsen. Increasingly muggy, humid summers breed "gazillions" of mosquitoes, the carriers of heartworm disease, as well as ticks that spread Lyme disease to both pooches and humans alike. For example, cases of Lyme disease in humans reported across Canada went from 144 in 2009 to a whopping 3,147 in 2021! Studies have estimated that up to 50% of dogs are infected with Lyme disease (borrelia burgdorferi) in endemic disease areas such as Southwestern Ontario. Nearly 75% of unvaccinated dogs in endemic areas will eventually test positive, and each year some will develop Lyme disease(1). Dogs are 50 to 100 times more likely than humans to come in contact with infected ticks.
As soon as temperatures begin to hit the plus-side, ticks become active. They can survive and even breed throughout the winter! There are 5 types of ticks we need to be aware of here in SWO, the American Dog Tick and the Deer Tick (Black Legged Tick) being the most common. And, amazingly, a female tick can lay up to 8,000 eggs in one day! A tick can transmit disease in as little as 24 hours.
Identifying a high risk area before striking out is an important consideration when you plan on hiking.
Ticks are Tricky
With ticks, the first step is to be cautious when walking in wooded or grassy areas, dress appropriately, always make a thorough check of both your pooch and yourself as soon as possible after a walk or hike. The areas most often affected on a dog are under the collar, inside of the ears, near the eyelids, between the toes, and in the "private" areas.
A thorough check after exposure to high risk areas is important. Removal of the tick is critical as well; both when and how. As soon as you spot a tick, it should be collected. [You can take it to your vet for analysis if desired.] Ideally, a "tick twister" is the best tool to use, but tweezers can also ensure you pull it out with the "mouth parts" intact. Should you be uncomfortable, your vet will certainly pull it out for you. Naturally, you'll want to monitor your pooch for symptoms if you've pulled a tick out. In infected dogs, the most common signs include fever, loss of appetite, painful or swollen joints, lameness that comes and goes, swollen lymph nodes, and lethargy. If Lyme disease is left untreated it can lead to damage in the kidneys, nervous system, and heart.
Proper tick removal is critical!
Unlike ticks, where we can avoid visiting high-risk areas such as hiking trails and dress for protection, it's practically impossible to prevent a mosquito from zoning in on our fur-kids. Heartworm disease is transmitted to our pups when an infected mosquito bites, depositing infected larvae into the bloodstream where they travel to the right side of the heart and develop into adult worms. Historically, heartworm season has been considered the months of May through November when conditions for mosquitoes are most active. But, it's more typical now to test annually and use prevention year round.
In contrast to Lyme disease, heartworm is a parasite that makes its way to the heart and matures into a worm within the vessels and chambers of the right side of the heart. This ends in heart failure or sudden death if the worms break free and embolize to the lungs. There is treatment for heartworm if a pooch does contract it, but, according to some statistics, there is approximately a 50% survival rate and the treatments are very expensive, very painful for your pet, and are done over a very long period of time.(2)
Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen.
Defence: The Best Offence!
Naturally, prevention is paramount. Our veterinarians can supply a range of monthly prevention for both of these diseases. In the case of heartworm, we're actually protecting both our own fur-kid, along with every other, since preventing infection will stop the spread after a mosquito moves on to its next meal.
Various types of prevention applications are available, depending on your preference. Naturally, they work differently, depending on how they are applied, but are all effective. When taken orally, a tick needs to bite in order to be killed, whereas the topical will kill a tick on contact. It is critical to weigh out the pros and cons of both types of application to ensure you select the best solution for you, your family, and your pet.
Better Safe Than Sorry!
That Old Saying
Some adages bear repeating and this one, for certain, "Better Safe Than Sorry" is definitely one that I refer to a lot. There are those who oppose what they refer to as "toxic" vaccines for both humans and pets alike but, when I think of the consequences of failing to take precautions, I am personally, of the BSTS opinion. However, only you can decide what's right for your situation, your family, and your pet.