Ticks, Ticks and More Ticks

The flowers are blooming, the peepers are peeping, and our 8 legged friend the tick is flourishing. It’s that time of year again, where we start checking our animals and ourselves for any invaders that may have chosen to hitch a ride. Why do we even care? Disease. There are many different species of ticks but there are 3 we focus on here in Maine: the deer tick (Ixodes scapularus), american dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis),and the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus). This will be a series of blogs starting with tick identification and an introduction to diseases they carry. Every week I will post something about the specific diseases we worry about!

 

Ticks have 4 life stages and not all are infectious. It starts with an adult female tick laying eggs which then hatch into larva known as the larval stage. The larva then needs a blood meal, which with the deer tick is frequently a small rodent like the white footed mouse. After the blood meal it then transforms into a nymph. They typically feed on larger mammals such as deer, humans, or canines. Nymphs are a stage that can pass on disease. Once the nymph has had a blood meal it will then transform into an adult tick and the cycle continues. It is only the nymph and adult stage that can pass on disease (see chart).

Now that we know how they come to be, Identification of the tick is the next most important step. The reason this is important is that as stated above, only an adult or nymph tick can pass the disease, and not all disease is passed on at the same rate. This diagram shows the appearance and size of the tick.

The deer tick is commonly found here in Maine and is the main carrier of Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, and Babesiosis. See image below to help with identification.

The Brown dog tick carries Canine Ehrlichiosis and Canine Babesiosis. See image below to help with identification.

The American dog tick carries canine tick paralysis (only female ticks can cause this) and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (though this disease is much less prevalent in these ticks in Maine compared to other parts of the USA). See image below to help with identification.

All these ticks quest which means they sit on vegetation and wait for a host to brush past them. Once they brush past the tick will then walk along the host until it finds a good place to feed on the host.

As with many things PREVENTION is always better than cure. We strongly recommend using an anti-tick product on a regular basis. We recommend Nexgard as an oral monthly anti-tick and flea protection product. In addition to prevention it is also very important to check your animals (and yourself) on a daily basis and remove any potential ticks!

Please feel free to call us at Dehler Animal Clinic for any further questions and keep an eye out for my next blog post about Lyme disease!

Heartworm and Your Pet

How many of us give our dog that monthly chew that does something with a worm and the heart and call it good? Well today, that is going to change. I want everyone to be well educated in one of the most significant diseases that can affect both our dogs and cats!

What is Heartworm?

Heartworm is a parasite that enters the blood stream as a larva (immature form of the worm) via a mosquito bite. In the animals’ body it then travels to the heart and lungs where it will become an adult worm. Here it will become sexually mature and produce microfilaria (immature form of the worm) which a mosquito then ingests and turns into a larva and restarts the cycle.

Why do we care about Heartworm?

As the adult worms grow in the heart they cause the heart chamber to grow as well. This eventually leads to heart failure due to the heart not being able function properly. The worms can also act as an embolus (similar to a clot) and this can cause damage to the lungs and other vital organs as they travel through the blood stream.

What are the symptoms of Heartworm?

The scary part of this disease is that at the initial stages of the disease there are no symptoms. It is not until the disease is advanced enough to cause heart failure or become emboli that you can diagnose the disease based on clinical symptoms such as coughing and lack of energy. This is why PREVENTION and regular TESTING is the best way to tackle this potentially life threatening disease!

What is heartworm testing?

The standard test is a screening test that looks for Antigen produced by the female worms. An antigen is a protein that the worms produce that go into the blood stream that we can test for. If this test is positive it means there is adult worms already present in the heart. You can also take a blood sample to look for the microfilaria (immature form of the worm) in the blood stream.

Microfilaria in Blood

 

What is the Prevention and treatment of Heartworm disease?

This is a true example of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! The medications that we use monthly kill the immature form of the worm before it can ever develop into an adult worm. Monthly medications like Heartgard© act retroactively. That means that any mosquito that bites and transfers the larva into the blood stream up to 30 days before the Heartgard© is given will be killed before it even has a chance to become an adult worm.

We do have medications that can treat adult worm if we miss this stage, however they are not only very expensive but carry significant risk. We use an injectable called Melarsomine that has to be given deep into the muscle in a series of 3 painful injections spread out by a month. There has already been potential damage to the heart and it increases the risk of allergic reactions and emboli that could be fatal to your pet. It is also significantly more expensive then the monthly prevention, you can protect your dog with Heartgard© for multiple years for the price of one heartworm adulticide treatment!

As always we strive to help keep your pets safe and would love to discuss heartworm and prevention with you! Call us now to schedule an appointment. We look forward to seeing you!

Dental health, It’s more than just stinky breath

It’s that time of year again, time to talk about teeth! February is known as dental health month but truthfully the dental health of our pets is important all year round. Can you imagine if you didn’t brush your teeth every day or had loose teeth in your mouth every time you ate? If you can’t imagine it, why should our pets?!

There are many symptoms of dental disease. As owners, we commonly think of bad breath or not wanting to eat due to pain or tooth root infections as indicators for dental disease. In actual fact, there are earlier signs that we can see, such as gingivitis (inflamed gums), tartar build up, excessive licking of the mouth, dropping food out of the mouth while eating, bleeding from the gums, even irritability (especially in your geriatric kitties). Catching dental disease early and taking action is the best medicine for both you and your pet.

I recommend starting from a young age in puppy and kittenhood! First, you play with your little one’s mouth and let them get acclimated to the toothbrush. They will lose all their baby teeth so it is not vital to actually brush these teeth but rather to get them used to the whole tooth brushing process. This will save you many hours of fighting later on and will lead to good positive brushing experiences. If you have an adult dog or cat its still not too late, see the video below produced by the AVMA© on how to brush your pets teeth!

Good preventative dental health consists of teeth brushing at least 3x a week if not daily, Oravet © chews or sealant, prescription dental diets such as Royal Canin© Dental, regular vet exams to grade dental disease and tartar build up, and prophylactic dentals where we scale and polish the teeth. We grade dental disease from 1 to 4 (see images below). Intervening at stage 1 or 2 can make a huge difference in your pets life!

Now the important part: why do we even care about early intervention with dental health? Most of the time we think of dental disease as an issue in the mouth, but did you know dental disease left untreated can lead to many other diseases? What?! How can this be? The main culprit in dental disease is bacteria, and this bacteria can get into the blood stream from the gum tissue. It has some favorite places to live in the body too! It can lead to significant heart, liver and kidney disease.

Also remember it’s not just cats and dogs that need good dental hygiene, but your exotic pets too!

So why don’t you make it your goal in February to come down and get your prophylactic dental kit, dental health exam and get proactive on your pets’ smile!