Fleas are more than just an annoyance for our dogs and cats. They can cause health problems that go beyond mere itching and bites. They can also spread to everyone else in the house. These insects may be tiny, but they can cause a world of discomfort.
What is a Flea?
A flea is a parasite that sucks blood from its victims. Their bodies are made for jumping and running, so they move easily from animal to animal, including the human members of the household. They can populate quickly if left unchecked. The female feeds on the blood of the dog or cat and then leaves droppings that are a source of nutrition for the larvae they produce. If you see specks that look like dirt on the skin or in the fur of your dog or cat, you are looking at a food source for the female flea’s offspring.
You can wait to see if your dog gets fleas, but sometimes a proactive treatment to prevent them is a better option, particularly if you live in a region that is prone to the growth of flea populations. They are drawn to warmth and humidity, and they like low altitudes. Check with your vet or pet store to get an appropriate medication to help prevent the fleas from getting a hold to populate on your pet’s skin.
Just the mention of ticks causes a tingling on the back of your neck. An afternoon hike in the woods can end with a thorough search through your dog’s coat and your hair to make sure none of those bloodsuckers hitched a ride. Some years are worse than others, and weather plays a big role in how bad a tick outbreak might be and when tick season begins.
Ticks are found everywhere in the United States, and which species you encounter depends on where you live. There are four stages in the life cycle of ticks: egg, larvae (smaller than a period), nymph (size of a pinhead), and adult. It takes two years for them to develop into adults, and except for the egg stage, each stage requires a blood meal before it can molt into the next one. Females can lay around 3,000 eggs.
Ticks do not die off during the winter months. To survive the cold and snow, most ticks find shelter in leaf litter and are dormant until spring. However, adult deer ticks (black-legged ticks) remain active year round. You or your pet could pick up a hitchhiker anytime the air temperature is close to freezing or above and the ground isn’t frozen or snow covered. In freezing weather, deer ticks hunker down under the snow in leaf litter, on firewood or a tree trunk, and come out during warm spells. If you find a tick inside during the winter, it probably hitched a ride on firewood.
Canine influenza (dog flu) was first reported in the United States in 2004. A vaccine was developed and has been effective in helping to protect dogs from the virus. However, a new strain of dog flu has popped up in the Midwest. It’s creating a concern because it has been difficult to contain and there is no vaccine for this new strain. Even if you don’t live in the Midwest, knowing the symptoms of canine influenza helps to prevent the spread of this contagious disease by keeping your dog isolated from other canines. If you suspect your dog has the flu, call your vet before taking him in. Unlike human flu which tends to be more prominent during the colder months, dogs can catch canine flu any time of the year.
In 2004, Greyhounds in close contact with horses developed a mysterious respiratory illness. It was discovered to be equine influenza A H3N8 (horse flu) which had been around for over 40 years in the horse population. This was a case of a virus jumping from one species to another; it quickly adapted and spread among canines, especially dogs living in close quarters like shelters and boarding kennels.
The new strain of canine flu, H3N2, is an Avian flu virus that began infecting dogs in the Midwest in April of this year. It is different from the human H3N2 seasonal flu virus. It began circulating in the Chicago area before spreading into neighboring states. So far, cases have been reported in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa. More than 1,000 dogs have been diagnosed and some have died.
Living in any hot weather climate with your dog or cat means taking extra precautions during the worst of the heat, but living in the desert brings additional concerns for their safety. Here are a few tips to help keep your pets safer in that type of climate and terrain.
Wildlife and Vegetation
The desert has wildlife and vegetation that can be dangerous to a curious pet. Some stay away from roaming creatures and the tough prickly vegetation native to the desert, but simple curiosity in desert terrain means exposure to these possible dangers. Pets do not necessarily know what is or isn’t dangerous for them, particularly if the desert is not something your dog or cat has been exposed to.
The sharp thorns of a cactus or succulent can cut or pierce the skin, paws or mouths of an overly curious pet. Creatures such as poisonous snakes or crawling scorpions are among the natural desert inhabitants that can make your dog or cat very ill or even kill them. If possible, keep a safe area enclosed in your yard for your dog and cat. If you can’t do that, or are out walking or playing with your pets, keep a sharp eye out for what they are getting into or examining. Eventually they will learn some of what is dangerous or painful, but you don’t want to chance it by not paying attention to the possible hazards.
If you have a dog with sensitive skin or a predisposition to skin conditions, you may have fallen into this circular trap – you need to bathe him more often because of the condition but the more you bathe him, the worse his skin condition seems to get. That’s because a regular dog bath can exacerbate his problem. Dogs with acute allergies or a propensity for other skin conditions need special care when receiving a bath.
Symptoms and Causes
In many cases, you will know if your dog is suffering from a skin condition simply by looking. Excess hair loss or bald spots are an indication of a problem, as are dry, flaky patches, scabs or rashes, lumps and bumps or anything out of the ordinary. If there are no visual indications, but you notice your dog chewing, scratching or licking himself excessively, then a skin condition may be the issue and you should make an appointment with your veterinarian to determine the cause of the skin condition and the best treatment plan.
A variety of things can cause skin conditions for dogs. The most obvious reason is fleas and/or an allergic reaction to them. Other external parasites could also be the culprit. It could be a result of an infection, hormonal or metabolic issues, allergies, yeast overgrowth, stress and boredom, or even a reaction to the shampoo or grooming products you are currently using on your pet.
Dermatitis is a condition that causes the skin to become inflamed. Atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that causes an allergic reaction to the skin. At one time it was referred to as allergic inhalant dermatitis. It’s one of the most common skin diseases found in dogs and cats.
To soothe their itchy skin, a pet dealing with this condition will scratch and search out furniture or other things to rub up against in an effort to easy their itch. Over time, the scratching and rubbing can lead to injuries to the skin which can make it easier for other secondary infections to enter the body. It can become a vicious circle that makes a pet feel miserable.
Proteins found in the environment likely enter the body through direct contact with the skin, absorbed through the paw pads or inhaled, and possibly ingested. These proteins are called allergens once they produce an allergic response. Atopic dermatitis, also known as atopy, is an allergic reaction to common and normally harmless allergens like house dust mites, house dust, grass, ragweed, trees, mold, pollen, insect proteins, animal dander or other allergens found in the environment. Human skin or natural fibers can also be a culprit.
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