Fleas, Ticks & Heartworm

It’s that time of year again! The return of warm weather is a welcome change, but spring also brings fleas, ticks, and (especially for dogs) heartworm disease!  Fleas are an age-old itchy and painful nuisance, but the tick risk in Toronto has been increasing every year. In addition to black-legged (deer) ticks that transmit Lyme Disease, other worrisome ticks include the Lone Star tick that can transmit the alpha gal (red meat) allergy to humans, and brown dog ticks, which can live indoors and cause home infestations. Heartworm is also a real risk, due to high infection rates among the coyotes living in our parks and ravines, and the increasing numbers of globe-trotting dogs in Toronto.

Before you get back out to the parks and lakes with your canine companion, and before outdoor cats starts exploring the neighbourhood, it’s important to make sure that they’re protected from infection so that you both have a safe and healthy season.

Ticks are so small before they feed that they can be virtually impossible to spot on your pet

Fleas
Fleas are usually are out in full force after only 3 days of warm weather, but when the winter weather is mild, we see dogs and cats with fleas all year long! Did you know that in a typical flea infection, only 5% of the fleas are on your dog or cat? The other 95% are in your home! Fortunately fleas are easier to prevent than they are to treat. Our flea preventives (usually included with heartworm or tick medications for dogs) work with nearly flawless efficacy to prevent fleas from infecting your pet and infesting your home. For cats, Revolution Plus kills fleas within hours and also protects against ticks!

Ticks
Ticks are becoming more prevalent each year as they gradually migrate further and further north. Tick species of concern in Toronto include the black-legged (deer) tick (which can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease), the American dog tick, the brown dog tick, and the Lone Star tick. Many Toronto area parks (Trinity Bellwoods, Cherry Beach) are endemic for ticks and we frequently see ticks on dogs that have visited these areas, as well as High Park, Humber Bay Park, the Rouge Valley, cottage country, and the Kingston/1000 Islands area. We are also starting to see ticks on outdoor cats, since cats like to explore the grasses and shrubs where ticks can be found. Tick borne diseases such as Ehrlichia and Anaplasma can transmit within 3 hours of tick attachment, and Lyme disease can transmit within 24 hours of attachment. We have several preventative medications that can prevent tick attachment and the transmission of Lyme disease, and would be happy to talk with you about which option is best suited to your dog or outdoor cat. 

Click here to quickly identify your dog’s tick-exposure risk.

Heartworm
Heartworm is a potentially fatal condition that all dogs are at risk for – not only those that go outside frequently. It is transmitted by mosquitoes, which as we all know are not limited to the outdoors! The disease can be transmitted with a single bite from a mosquito that previously bit a dog or coyote with heartworm, and the larvae then develop within the skin and blood stream of an infected dog. Once mature, they grow to 10-15 cm long, live in the heart, and can cause severe illness as well as clinical signs of heart disease.

Fortunately, heartworm disease is easily preventable with appropriate medication. The safest and most effective preventive medication is Revolution, a small vial of liquid that is applied to the skin once monthly from June until November to prevent heartworm for the entire season.  Revolution protects cats from heartworm disease as well, which is less common but can be even more deadly to our feline friends.

The important first step for dogs is to book an appointment to have a heartworm test done. This is a blood test that allows us to make sure your dog didn’t contract heartworm disease last year; it is important to confirm this before starting medication for the current year. At this appointment the doctor or veterinary technician will also give your dog a courtesy dental and weight check. 

If it wasn’t done at their most recent annual exam, we’ll also talk about the benefits of early detection screening. We simply get a little extra blood to enable us to run additional tests to evaluate your pet for a wide range of health conditions. This can help us identify and treat emerging health issues early, before they progress and become more difficult and expensive to treat. This testing is very important to have done annually, since dogs age the equivalent of seven human years each calendar year!

Next Steps for Dogs
Please click here to make an appointment for your dog to come in for their tick-borne disease and heartworm testing, and to get them set up with parasite protection for the coming season. If your dog has had an exam within the past year, they could be eligible for a complimentary appointment with one of our technicians, where there is no exam charge – you would only pay for your dog’s blood testing and preventative medication.

Next Steps for Cats
If your cat has not been in for a visit during the past 12 months, please click here to book an appointment for their annual wellness exam, or if we have seen them within the past year and you have no other health concerns to discuss with their veterinarian, please feel free to use our online prescription request form to request their flea and tick prevention medication.