In cooler climates, cold winters with heavy frost lower the risk of parasite infestations, but parasites are adapted to survive no matter what, so the risk is never completely eliminated. Here in southern California, we enjoy relatively mild weather, so parasites—including fleas, ticks, heartworms, and intestinal worms—remain a constant threat, regardless of season. Emerald Animal Hospital recognizes the value in staying vigilant to prevent parasite infestations, so if you don’t already have a year-round parasite prevention plan, here are five reasons your pet needs one.

#1: Most parasites are active year-round

Pets can pick up internal and external parasites from the environment or other pets year-round. Most parasites live in or on a host for part of their life cycle, and then become inactive in the environment, awaiting a new host. They can lurk outdoors in wooded, grassy areas, in cracks, crevices, and carpets in homes and buildings, in soil and sand, and on wildlife or other pets. Inactive parasites are typically protected from disinfectants, cold, and heat, and are difficult to kill. Their unique life cycles and ability to hide unseen for long periods mean they can infect pets of all ages and lifestyles, including exclusively indoor pets. 

#2: Fleas and ticks can transmit disease to pets and humans

Adult fleas live on your pet’s skin, bite them to take blood meals, and reproduce prolifically. The flea eggs fall off your pet and into the environment, hatch, live freely as larvae, and then become pupae that can sit in wait for weeks or months until a host walks by, when they emerge as adults and begin the life cycle again. Fleas cause itching and skin irritation, and many pets have allergic reactions to flea bites that cause extreme itching, hair loss, and skin infections. Fleas transmit disease to pets and humans, including bartonellosis (i.e., cat scratch disease), the plague, murine typhus, and tapeworms.

Ticks are free-living, but they must feed on a host to mature into their next life stage. Tick bites are painless, but proteins in the tick’s saliva can cause intense inflammation that leaves your pet with a red, itchy bump. Ticks are also well-known for transmitting disease while attached, and most-tick borne diseases, including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and anaplasmosis, cause serious illness, with infected pets showing signs that include lethargy, fever, anemia, clotting problems, eye problems, joint pain, and organ failure.

#3: Heartworms can kill your pet

Heartworms do exactly what their name implies—they live in the heart and lungs of infected pets and cause serious inflammation and long-term damage. Dogs with heavy worm burdens, and cats with only one or two worms, can die suddenly or slowly from heart failure. Heartworms are transmitted when a mosquito bites an infected pet or wildlife host and later transfers immature larval worms to another pet. Heartworm disease can take several years to kill a host, so infected foxes, coyotes, wolves, and sea lions act as environmental reservoirs.

#4: Intestinal parasites are a constant threat

Intestinal parasites live inside pets who then expel eggs in their feces. The eggs remain in the soil, sand, or environment until they are ingested by another unknowing host. The parasites feed on your pet’s blood and intestinal contents, and can cause diarrhea, weight loss, anemia, pot-belly, and a general “unthriftiness.” Intestinal parasite larvae can inactivate and hide in muscle tissue and be immune to treatments, but then become active during pregnancy, so most pets are born with these parasites. Roundworms also infect humans—usually children because of their hygiene habits—and will travel to their brain and eyes and cause serious damage, including blindness.

#5: Preventing infestations is easier than treating them

You can prevent the problems associated with fleas, ticks, heartworms, and intestinal parasites by giving your pet one or two safe monthly medications prescribed by your veterinarian. Most products protect against multiple parasite types, and flea/tick preventives and heartworm/intestinal worm preventives are common combinations. These products are available in easily administered chewable oral form, or can be applied to the skin. They provide long-lasting protection, but breaks leave pets vulnerable, so year-round prevention is the best strategy. 

Preventing infestations is much easier than treating them, especially for fleas and heartworms. Fleas can take hold in your home with pupae that hide in bedding or floor cracks, and continue to infest your pet as they hatch out daily. To eliminate fleas, you must treat all pets for at least six months, and continuously clean and treat your home’s surfaces. 

Heartworm treatment involves a series of painful injections to kill the adult worms, who release toxic substances as they die, and can be expensive and risky. Your pet must take medication and remain on strict cage rest for several months to lower the risks. 

Parasites can make your pet miserable and expose them to disease, but preventive medications administered year-round can keep them happy and healthy. If you suspect your pet may have parasites, your pet is due for an annual parasite screening, or you have questions about products that are right for your pet, call us to schedule a visit with the Emerald Animal Hospital team.