Parasites are creepy-crawly concern for dog owners

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 29, 2012

Wow! Is it ever spring! And to think 48 hours ago in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, I was in a blizzard with white out conditions, then ice pellets, more blizzard and then lots of cold wind.

But in Kentucky, it is spring! The daffodils are starting to fade, red buds and forsythias are fully out.

Fruit trees are in full bloom and the lilacs and dog woods are budding out. Talk about a shock to my system!

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Spring is a little early this year and we may still have another storm, but this year is much milder than many before and that means we will have more parasites and bugs.

Usually a hard freeze will kill some of the fleas, ticks and other things that bug us. But this year, we have not had a freeze that went into the leaf litter or lasted long enough to kill many arthropod critters.

That means it is going to be a bad year for fleas. And ticks. And lice. And mosquitoes. And hookworms, roundworms, whipworms and heartworms. And other creepy crawlies.

Fleas that would have been killed on opossums (they share with our dogs and cats) will definitely be out in full force.

And ticks that are normally not seen until May or June have already been found on pets.

More fleas and ticks mean more treatments. When it comes to treatment, I cannot put it better than USA Today: “Instead of relying on flea and tick product marketing or what you happen to see at the store, consult with a veterinary professional about what best suits your pets and their habits.

Keeping those little buggers off your pets will make you happier, and keep your pets healthier.” (USA Today 12:15 p.m., Mar. 22, 2012)

Because of the mild winter, I suspect that we will also have more heartworm disease this year.

Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that would have normally been killed off will have survived. Currently the adulticide (medicine that safely kills the foot long adult heartworms) is not available in the U. S. All cases must be approved for shipment of the drug from Europe.

That translates to more expensive and more delays in the treatment of an already dangerous disease.

(Cats also get heartworm disease, but there is no effective treatment.) Prevention for dogs, cats, ferrets and foxes is going to be even more important than before.

Expect to see more problems with intestinal parasites also. “April showers bring May flowers” is being replaced this year at GAMC to “March showers bring April hookworms”.

Hookworm eggs hatch in moist places when the temperature gets warm. This year it seems like it is going to be warm and moist a full month earlier than normal.

Any hookworm eggs that were deposited and left from the feces will soon be infecting our pets (and anyone who lays in the most areas or goes barefoot there).

Parasites are cool to study (I have a master of science in veterinary parasitology), but not so cool in or on us or our pets.

But whether you believe that we cause global warming or it just is happening, one result of less winter is going to be more parasites this year.

This is probably even true in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.

In the meantime, I am glad to be home and that it is spring.


MJ Wixsom practices veterinarian medicine at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. For questions, call 606-928-6566.