We are well into our summer weather and the question often arises – what do we need to do to protect our pets against bugs such as fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes (the carrier of heartworm disease)
The need to protect your pet is based on the risk of exposure to the bugs:
Fleas are often brought to your pet from other animals, including wildlife. They will make your pet itch, and are visible, brown bugs that hop on and off your pet. Fleas can live in your house and yard, making them difficult to get rid of. There are several spot-on type flea preventatives that are applied once monthly – these are effective but are also toxic as the insecticide is absorbed into your pet’s body. There are natural sprays that can repel fleas but do not kill them. I do not recommend using a flea preventative unless you have actually seen them on your pets.
Ticks typically live on the vegetation and drop on your pet as it walks by. Ticks can spread diseases such as Lyme, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichia, and anaplasmosis. These diseases are potentially serious and it is definitely worth checking your pets for ticks after it has been outside. Many of the same insecticides that are used for fleas can also be used to kill ticks. I recommend checking your pet for ticks and removing them as soon as you see them. A simple tweezer attached to the tick just above the skin should remove it uneventfully.
Mosquitoes are the insect that spreads heartworm disease If your dog is exposed to lakes, ponds, or other pools of water, there will likely be some mosquito exposure during the summer months. The heartworm larvae must go through a life-stage cycle in the mosquito in order to be able to infect your dog, and this transition requires a temperature of 57 degrees or higher for 30 consecutive days. Here in Colorado, we have cool nights, so the risk of heartworm disease is much lower. In warmer climates, the risk is much higher. There are natural repellents to keep mosquitos away from your dog, and regular heartworm testing is also a good idea to be sure that there has not been any exposure.
In Colorado, I recommend heartworm prevention only during the warm summer months of June, July, and August. In my experience, finding a heartworm positive dog that lives in Colorado is extremely rare. In other parts of the country, where mosquitoes are more prevalent and the temperatures are warmer, the risk will be much greater. If you live in, or travel to other areas of the country, your dog should be on prevention for more of the year.
I recommend choosing your pet’s prevention based on its risk of exposure. If you do not see the bugs, then there is no need to use potentially harmful pesticides. If the problem is mild, you can try one of the natural repellent sprays.
Have a happy and hopefully bug-free summer!