We have a local resident, the deer tick, Ixodes pacificus, who generally hides out in the summer and then about the time the rains return, little hatchlings crawl out of previously deposited eggs to look for their first blood meal around the time of Halloween. These are called larvae, are about the size of the head of a pin, and have only six legs. They preferentially seek out small rodents and lizards. After obtaining a blood meal, the larvae will molt into an eight-legged nymph whose food preference is more generalized to include small to medium or even large mammals including people. Again after a blood meal the nymph will molt into an adult that will feed on larger mammals, especially deer and frequently dogs, cats and humans. In this tick species only adult females will feed and engorge (the tick abdomen fills with blood). The Adult male's only role is mating. This tick has a two year cycle and so nymphs and adults are also appearing in the fall and tend to stick around until mid-spring.
Ticks can be vectors of a variety of bacterial and viral diseases depending on the species of tick and the geographical location. In our area, Lyme disease is a concern. We are more fortunate than the New England or Great Lakes regions in terms of the prevalence of Lyme disease (named for Lyme, Connecticut). There are about 300,000 cases a year in humans, most of them from these two areas, but we are third. There is some evidence that ticks feeding on western lizards may imbibe a substance that is toxic to the Lyme Disease organism. This may be a factor that substantially lowers the infection rate in California compared to the northeastern United States. We should be grateful to the lizards.
The causative agent of Lyme Disease is Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete (spiral) bacterium. When an uninfected larvae feds on an infected small rodent, they acquire this agent and then may pass it on to the next host fed on as a nymph. If a nymph is uninfected, it may pick up this disease when feeding on an infected mammal, and then molt into an infected adult, possibly passing it on to the next victim. While there are a large number of mammalian reservoir hosts, it appears that dogs and humans are almost exclusively the species afflicted by Lyme disease. There are many cases of seropositive individuals who nonetheless do not develop actual disease. Apparently even if bitten by an infected tick, most dogs and people do not develop disease because their immune system defeats it. So a positive antibody titer for Borrelia does not require treatment unless there are clinical signs. The primary clinical sign in dogs is lameness and possible joint swelling. In humans a bulls-eye rash may appear as the first sign 3-30 days after the tick bite. Days to weeks after the onset of localized infection, the disease may go on to resemble flu-like symptoms and can involve the brain, nerves, eyes, joints and heart.
There is a successful treatment for genuine cases with an antibiotic called doxycycline. Preventing tick attachment is the best defense. Removing attached ticks within 24-36 hours would likely prevent transfer of the bacteria. Tick removal would entail grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible with a tweezers or gloved hand and pulling slowly straight out. Twisting would break off mouth parts, burning with a match causes the tick to expel saliva into the host. Avoid crushing the tick as it will release possibly infectious material.
Very effective new products (inhibitors of the arthropod nervous system) are available to quickly dispatch feeding ticks. These products are also very effective against fleas. These are oral products for dogs, either once a month, Nexgard (Afoxolaner), or once every three months, Bravecto (Fluralaner). In cats the product is topical Bravecto which is effective for three months for fleas and 2-3 months depending on the species of tick. There are no products which reliably repels ticks before they attach.
One other tick is commonly found in our area. This is the wood tick, Dermacentor occidentalis, not a vector of Lyme Disease, but can cause Tick Paralysis in dogs and humans. This tick is much larger than the Deer Tick, appears in late winter to early spring and persists until the beginning of summer. Both males and females of this species feed, although the males cannot engorge. The previously mentioned products are also effective against this tick. Both Nexgard and Bravecto offer either a free sample or rebates. Pinecreek Veterinary Clinic has had great success with both products and highly recommends them as being the best product available for ticks, a notoriously difficult arthropod to kill. We have so far not seen adverse reactions in treated animals.
Why is Dental Care Important?
Prevention of the most common oral disease in pets (and in people!) consists of frequent removal of the dental plaque and tartar that forms on teeth that are not kept clean. A buildup of plaque can cause periodontal disease, among other health problems. Your dog and cat are very good at hiding pain - you might never know that your pet has a serious dental problem until it's very advanced. This is yet another reason it's important to take your pet in for regular dental checkups.
What to do About Unhealthy Teeth
If your pet has signs of a painful mouth (Bad Breath, Unusual Chewing Habits, Loss of Appetite, Redness of Gums, Etc.) schedule an exam with us, and we will determine a proper diagnoses. An average dental procedure includes the scaling of teeth to remove plaque and tartar, checking for below the surface issues, radiographs, polishing the teeth, and extractions if necessary.
At Home Prevention Care
- The Toothbrush Kit: The shape of the canine and feline brushes conform to a pet's mouth. Finger brushes are available and are smaller for puppies and kittens
- Toothpaste: DO NOT USE A HUMAN TOOTHPASTE ON YOUR PET. Pet toothpaste comes in a variety of flavors: mint, chicken, liver, and malt (generally preferred as a flavor by pets).
- Dental Spray: Some pets will not allow anyone to actually touch their teeth. For these pets there is dental spray which can be sprayed into the mouth as an anti-plaque wash. The spray can be applied to a tissue or cloth and rubbed on the teeth as well.
- Dental Treats: Some cats will not allow anyone to reach into their mouths for any reason and will not tolerate brushing, spraying, rinsing or any other home care. For these animals dental treats represent an excellent method of dental home care. Feline dental treats are freeze dried fish pieces to help remove plaque. We recommend a treat daily for routine home care.
What is Heartworm?
Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal condition caused by parasitic worms living in the arteries of the lungs and occasionally in the right side of the heart of dogs, cats and other species of mammals. The disease is spread by mosquitoes that become infected with microfilariae while taking a blood meal from an infected dog. When a animal is infected it takes about 2 months for the larvae to migrate through the connective tissue, under the skin, then pass into the animal's venous blood stream and they are then quickly transported to the arteries of the lung. It takes a total of approximately six months for the infective larvae to mature into adult worms that begin producing offspring, microfilariae. Adult heartworms can live for five to seven years in the dog.
Symptoms of Heartworm
In the early stages of an infection there is usually no abnormal behavior. As the infection grows, the animal will develop a cough, have unusual sounding lungs, and decrease their amount of exercise. As the heartworm becomes severe the animal may have trouble breathing, due to inflammation of the Pulmonary arteries, fluid may accumulate in the abdominal cavity, and the heart may sound abnormal. As the worms increase in numbers they back up into the right heart and even vessels leading to the heart (Vena Cavae) at this point the animal is severely debilitated and near death.
The treatment for heartworm disease is currently only approved for use in dogs. There is no protocol for the treatment of cats other than supportive care. Cats may be prescribed bronchodilators and corticosteroids to control symptoms. The only drug approved is called melarsomine. It is an organically bound arsenical compound that is given by injection in the lumbar muscles of the back. One injection is administered, followed by a second one 24 hours later if the patient tolerates the medication well. In a split treatment, the dog is given the first injection followed by the series of two injections 4 to 6 weeks later. In either case, the dog must be kept confined for several weeks after the injections to avoid complications from treatment, Pulmonary Thromoemboli from dead worms and blood clots.
Prevention is the best way to avoid heartworm disease and the risk involved with treatment (not to mention the expense). There are a number of safe heartworm preventive medications that your veterinarian can prescribe for your pet.
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