John Crumley, DDM, at Baring Boulevard Veterinary Hospital, cautions dog owners to be aware during the summer season and to prepare their pets for outdoor activities that put them at risk for things such as ticks, which can carry Lyme disease, and mosquitoes, which can carry heartworms.
“It’s still important in this area, too, even though we are higher and drier here,” said Crumley, who is from Texas where the humid climate causes more problems for pet owners, he added. “We still have ticks and even heartworms in this area and I do recommend Frontline and Advantage.”
Both medications can be purchased for a pet over the counter or by going to the veterinarian.
“Make sure that you use the proper dose and, if using the over-the-counter treatments, make sure not to use a generic,” Crumley said, warning that some products promote flea, tick and heartworm protection but do not actually protect the pet from the insects.
A dog can get ticks just by hiking in the Sierra Nevadas, which is why Crumley said it is important for both people and pets to be thoroughly checked for ticks.
“A tick is a parasite and, just like any other parasite, lives on other animals,” Crumley explained, adding that female ticks will attach using their mouth and often lay eggs before dropping off from a host.
Crumley also said most ticks don’t live their entire life cycle on the host.
“If you don’t remove the whole tick and you don’t grasp the head and the mouth parts and only grasp part of the body, it can cause infection,” Crumley said.
Crumley suggests using tweezers or something that allows the person removing the tick to get close to the skin and base of the tick in order to properly remove it. He said if a tick is removed but the person can still see a black dot, it means the head is most likely still in the skin and they need to see a veterinarian immediately.
“Most ticks are pretty innocuous, but ticks can carry diseases,” Crumley said. “Lyme disease is probably the best known (disease). It’s a bacteria and it causes blood-borne disease.
“Frontline and Advantage kills the ticks before the disease can be transmitted,” Crumley added. “It takes time for Lyme Disease to be transmitted to the patient.”
Although ticks can be visible to a pet owner, mosquito bites might not be so obvious, which Crumley said can cause heartworms in dogs and in rare cases cats as well.
“Mosquitoes can carry the parasite that causes heartworms,” Crumley said. “Heartworms will cause heart failure, heart disease and even death in a dog.”
Crumley said preventative care, much like with flea and tick treatments, helps to protect a pet from the possibility of heartworms.
“It kills the little worm in the blood stream after the bite,” Crumley said. “Although we don’t have a lot of mosquitoes in this area ... one ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Crumley cautioned that visible symptoms of heartworms are not always present in pets with the parasite but he said some dogs will present signs of coughing and become lethargic.
“In most patients the disease is asymptomatic,” Crumley said. “They aren’t showing symptoms of the disease, but typical blood tests will pick it up.”
If a blood test confirms that a dog has heartworms, Crumley said, in some cases medication can help treat the pet. He added that the worse cases he has seen have resulted in surgically removing the heartworms.
“We see ticks here routinely in the summer and the vast majority of the time we remove the ticks and put the patient on tick preventative medicine,” Crumley said. “As far as heartworm, we only see a case or two a year here.
“If the pet is on preventatives, it’s incidentally unlikely for them to ever have a problem with it,” Crumley added.
In addition to insects that can cause problems for pets, Crumley said dog owners should take precautions not only for themselves but also their dogs when hiking and camping.
“Flea and tick and heartworm preventative is important, as always, but most important is that people bring food and water with them for their dogs,” Crumley said. “We see exhaustion syndrome and heat stroke.
“If a dog is seeking shaded areas and seeking a spot that is cooler, if a dog lays down on the trail and won’t follow you anymore, that is a very concerning sign,” Crumley added.
Crumley said if the owner tries giving the dog food and water and the dog still will not move, the owner should get the car and bring the dog to a veterinarian immediately.
“If they’re not bouncing straight up and feeling good again, I would say go to the clinic before you get home,” Crumley said, adding the dog’s behavior could be a sign of injury or even heat stroke.
Although it is important always to be prepared to take care of a pet, Crumley said, being prepared for outdoor activities is important for everyone on the trip hiking or camping.
“Always be prepared for yourself and your pet,” Crumley said.