Many dog owners treat their pets for ticks, fleas and worms during the warmer months, but did you know these nasty pests can last all year-round? Kylie Baracz gets the low-down on ticks and other summer pests.
Pests such as ticks and worms are harmful to our pets — and to us — and a bite from a paralysis tick can be fatal. So how do we prevent these critters from harming our canines?
Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of humans and animals. They can inject toxins into the host they feed off, which, in turn, can cause irritation, allergic reactions and spread tick-borne diseases.
However, the species that many owners need to keep an eye out for is the Ixodes holocyclus or paralysis tick. Dr Mike Fitzgerald, a vet with a special interest in ticks, says there is a major difference between the common bush tick and the deadly paralysis one.
“The female adult paralysis ticks secrete a neurotoxin and other toxins in their saliva in the process of feeding,” Dr Fitzgerald says. “The Bush tick (Haemaphysalis) just has ‘regular’ tick saliva, swells up with blood then drops off to lay eggs with no toxic effect on the host.”
Dr Fitzgerald says the tick season, when there are more tick cases, varies according to local climatic and microclimatic conditions. “Tick season is almost year-round in Cairns, August to January in Northern NSW, and later as you go south towards the southern limit at Lakes Entrance in Victoria.”
So what symptoms should you look out for to see if your dog has been affected by a paralysis tick? Although the symptoms can vary greatly, Dr Fitzgerald believes the most common symptom is “weakness in the back legs progressing to full paralysis of all four limbs and ultimately the inability to breathe.” Retching, coughing, gagging, change in voice, difficulty swallowing, regurgitating white froth and vomiting bile can also be seen.
Dr Fitzgerald recommends if you find a partially fed paralysis tick and there are ANY symptoms at all — even very mild — seek help immediately as time is of the essence. If there are no effects, just monitor closely for 48 to 72 hours after removal as signs can be delayed.
The best way to deal with tick paralysis is prevention. Daily searching, no matter what else you use, is imperative. “All products help and all can fail,” says Dr Fitzgerald. “It only takes one tick to be missed to kill your pet. Shaves are an excellent idea to easily locate ticks. Also, discuss collars, sprays and spot-on treatments with your vet to best tailor prevention to your individual requirements.”
How to remove a tick
Dr Fitzgerald shares the following tips on removing ticks:
- On your pet, just pluck them quickly with fingers or with tweezers
- On humans, it is best to kill the tick before removal. Otherwise, there may be an increased risk of allergic reaction — but it is always best to ask your doctor.
“There are many urban myths about tick removal but the best way is to just pluck it out, grasping as close to the skin as possible,” advises Dr Fitzgerald.
There are different types of worms that can affect dogs. The main ones are roundworms, whipworms, hookworms and tapeworms, which all affect the bowel. Heartworm, as its name suggests, ends up in the heart.
Symptoms to look out for include: ill-thrift in puppies; weight loss; chronic or intermittent diarrhoea; bleeding from the bowel, which can result in anaemia; and dermatitis.
Dr Romy Feldman, also known as the Roaming Vet, says another symptom is when the dog scoots or drags its bottom along the ground — although this can also mean that the anal glands need to be emptied.
“It is important to remember, though, that the signs can be subtle and it is not always obvious that the dog is carrying a worm burden,” she says. “Not only can intestinal worms cause disease in your loved pet, but they can cause potentially serious disease in people, particularly children, your family and the community at large.”
Heartworm can kill dogs and the initial signs can include a progressive severe cough or malaise with respiratory symptoms.
Another concern with worms is that they can be transferred from animals to humans. This can be via the faecal-oral route i.e from the faeces of the dog to the mouth of a human. It can also be through play or face licking and in parks from other dogs’ faeces that are left behind. Children may also become infected by tapeworm by ingesting infected fleas.
“Worms can all find their way into our mouths eventually,” Dr Feldman says. “It is known that humans touch their faces many times a day without even realising it. Children are especially at risk. Of course, eating with hands that may be contaminated also plays a significant role in transmission. I challenge you to try and spend an entire day without touching your face!”
Heartworm, however, is spread by a mosquito bite through the blood of one infected animal to another.
If you do find your dog has worm symptoms, Dr Feldman recommends going to the vet and having your animal checked out. As said previously, signs are not always obvious and it’s better to get the all clear from a professional than worry.
“It sounds unpleasant, but use gloves and take a sample of the worms/faeces with you in a container so that the vet may identify them — this can be important,” says Dr Feldman. “Treatment must be instigated with an all-wormer, which you can get from the vet. I usually treat once with a reputable brand of all-wormer and then treat again two weeks later. Even if you think you know the weight of your dog or cat, always weigh them to check, a common mistake with all-wormers is to under dose. If your dog weighs 10.5kg, don’t use a dose for 10kg, it won’t work!”
She also says the only way to know if your dog has heartworm before it is too late is to have a blood test at the vet.
So how can you treat and prevent worms in your dog? Dr Feldman says there are so many options these days, which makes treating for worms — both intestinal and heartworm — easy.
“As puppies, they are the most vulnerable and can be infected from their mums. Worming needs to be done following a strict protocol, once every two weeks until 12 weeks of age, then once monthly until six months old. From six months of age, cats and dogs should be treated every three months for intestinal worms,” advises Dr Feldman.
“Treating for heartworm can start from around 12 weeks of age; this can either be monthly or yearly. You can use an all-in-one liquid spot, which prevents most intestinal worms and heartworm, or you can combine it with a tape wormer tablet every three months. Discuss with your vet what the appropriate protocol may be for you and your animal. It is initially a lot to take in, but it becomes clear and is part of being a responsible pet owner and member of the community.”
Protect your family against worms
Dr Feldman shares these tips on how to protect your family from worms:
- Wash your hands before eating
- Ensure you nominate a person responsible for the correct worm-prevention protocol and make sure they stick to it
- Create reminders in your phone or on a calendar
- Always pick up and dispose of your animal’s poo
- Not many people realise that the flea is involved in the tapeworm lifecycle so treating for fleas is also important
- At times, it may be necessary to treat your family members with a wormer as well (human treatment of course). Please seek advice from your doctor or pharmacist about this
“I would like to encourage everyone to not only treat their animals appropriately to prevent parasites such as worms, fleas, ticks and heartworm, but pick up their poo as well,” says Dr Feldman.
As the weather starts to warm up and daily temperatures rise, fleas begin to hatch and infest both your pet and your home. Even if fleas have not been a problem in recent months, remember that their pupal stage can survive in the environment for almost a whole year. By the time you notice your dog scratching, it’s too late!
There are great products on the market that provide rapid and lasting relief from fleas, such as Comfortis. Comfortis starts killing fleas within 30 minutes and is 100 per cent effective within just four hours. This rapid mode of action means Comfortis minimises the opportunity for flea feeding, which limits the severity of flea-allergy dermatitis (FAD). It also helps to break the flea lifecycle by killing fleas before they get a chance to lay their eggs, so it stops the “explosion” of flea numbers.
Given that adults typically comprise only five per cent of the total flea population, it’s important to eliminate as many eggs, larvae and pupae as possible. Brush your dog outdoors, bath your dog, wash all bedding in hot water and vacuum clean its sleeping area.
For more information, contact your veterinarian or visit comfortis.com.au
Virbac Animal Health has released a website where animal owners and veterinarians can report outbreaks of pests such as worms or ticks. Disease Watchdog (diseasewatchdog.org) also provides information about tick paralysis symptoms, treatments, prevention and a map of cases.You need to look after your pooch's health - check out our all-new DOGSLife Directory