It's Spring Fling for Internal Parasites. After a long, cold winter, you welcome those first few days of spring - the warm breeze, rising temperatures, and sunshine make you feel good all over. Unfortunately, the warm weather brings more than just flowers. It signals the start of parasite season for ours pets. These parasites can rob your pets of vital nutrition, cause organ disease, and even lead to death. This is the time of year to take precautions to protect your pets from parasites.

The minute the weather warms up, biting insects become more active. These insects can carry internal parasites that are extremely harmful to your pets. Mosquitoes are of special concern. Their bites can cause much more than itchy bumps; they can actually threaten your pet's life. A bite can transmit a very serious, infectious illness called heartworm disease. Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite named Dirofilaria immitis. In their immature, microscopic stage, the heartworms are carried by mosquitoes. They are injected into your pet while the mosquito is feeding. The immature worms migrate through the body, eventually reaching the heart, lungs, and connecting blood vessels. In approximately six months, they grow to become adults as long as 14 inches in length. When they reproduce, their tiny offspring, called microfilariae, circulate in the bloodstream. At this point they can be spread to another animal by a mosquito bite. So every time your pet is bitten by a mosquito, there is the possibility that the animal is exposed to heartworms.

Because these parasites live in the heart and blood vessels, the disease signs are those of heart and lung problems. Animals with heartworm disease may tire easily, cough, lose weight, and have trouble breathing. As the illness progresses, animals may have fluid build-up in the abdomen and swelling of the legs. If not identified and treated, heartworms can cause collapse and the death of the pet. Cats may show no signs, but die without warning.

Heartworms are identified using a simple blood test. Dogs should be routinely screened for heartworm disease, as treatment is most successful if the illness is identified in its early stages. If a dog is identified as having heartworm disease, it can be treated with an injectable medication. The treatment is carried out in two stages, carries some risk, and requires the animal to be rested for several weeks.

Prevention is must easier than treatment. All dogs should be routinely tested for heartworm disease. Testing is typically done on an annual basis, although some dogs may require more frequent testing. Dogs with a negative heartworm test should be placed on a preventative medication. It is important to understand that the preventative should never be given without performing the blood test. Placing any animal on preventative that is already infected with heartworms can result in a severe reaction and the death of the animal.

Several types of preventative medication are available for dogs, including tablets given on a daily basis, monthly tablets, injectable preventative, and a monthly spot-on topical solution. Cats should also be placed on monthly heartworm preventative medication, available either as a tablet or a spot-on topical solution. Even cats that do not venture beyond the screened-in porch need heartworm preventative. Mosquitoes will get through screens and can bite indoor cats.

Cats and dogs should be on preventative medication whenever mosquitoes are present. In the warmer parts of the country, pets may be on heartworm preventative throughout the entire year. Even these animals on year-round preventative medication need yearly heartworm tests. This way any accidental infection can be identified and treated.

In addition to heartworm preventative medication, it is wise to take steps to prevent mosquitoes from biting your pets. Pets should be kept indoors during the time of day that mosquitoes are most active, so bring pets in at dusk and during the night. In addition, eliminate breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Young mosquitoes like calm, quiet water, so make sure you clean up any stagnant pools of water, empty water troughs frequently, and get rid of any debris that may hold water. If necessary, treat the yard with products that kill mosquitoes. You can also use spot-on topical medications on dogs that help to repel mosquitoes.

At the same time that your pet is tested for heartworm disease, it is a good idea to run a test looking for intestinal parasites. This test requires only a small amount of your pet's feces and checks for worms and protozoa that can attack the gastrointestinal tract. These parasites are often more common in the spring. Eggs that have laid dormant under the snow are now viable and accessible to your pets, so infections with hookworms and whipworms can occur. Ponds that had a layer of ice covering them are now open, so pets have access to waterborne infections such as giardia. And cats that spent the winter by the fire may now resume hunting and come in contact with tapeworms and other parasites.

This is the time of year to check your pets for internal parasites and start the preventative measures needed to protect them through the spring and season. Test for intestinal parasites and heartworm disease. Clean up yards and stagnant water. Treat intestinal parasites with appropriate medications and start your pets on heartworm preventative. Then your pets and you can enjoy the warm weather and blooming flowers, without worrying about heartworm disease and intestinal parasites.

Short Summary

Warmer weather makes us all feel good, but brings increased risk of parasites to your pet. It is important to take steps to prevent and treat these parasites. One important part of your pet's routine health care is protection from heartworm disease. Heartworm disease is a life-threatening illness that is spread by mosquito bites. It occurs wherever and whenever mosquitoes are present. In many parts of the country, spring brings a resurgence of these disease-carrying insects. Dogs with heartworm disease may cough, be weak, lose weight, have trouble breathing, collapse, and can die. Cats may die without any warning. A simple blood test is used to identify heartworm disease. Dogs that have the disease require expensive and potentially risky treatment. It is much safer and easier to keep your pets on medication that prevents heartworm disease. Preventative medications are available as daily tablets, monthly tablets, or monthly spot-on topical solutions. Because heartworm preventative medications can kill an animal that already has heartworm disease, all pets should be screened for the disease before starting the preventative. Your veterinarian can do the blood test and prescribe the preventative medication. At the same time, pets should be screened for intestinal parasites. These parasites include worms, such as tapeworms, hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms, and protozoal parasites such as giardia. These parasites rob your pets of nutrition and can cause diarrhea and gastrointestinal bleeding. Testing is done with feces and treatment involves oral medication. The start of spring time is the perfect time to test for and treat internal parasites. And make sure to test for heartworms and start giving preventative medication. This is a perfect case of a little prevention going a long way toward keeping your pets healthy. What a great way to show how much you care!

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