Fleas, Ticks, and Heartworms…Oh My!

April 24, 2017

The warm weather is upon us, and that means that man’s best friend (whether canine or feline) may be bringing home some additional buddies…fleas and ticks!  Both fleas and ticks have the ability to spread disease and cause problems that can be harmful to your beloved pets.  Furthermore, with the warmer weather come mosquitos, which aside from being a nuisance, can transmit heartworm disease to your dog or cat (yes, cats can get heartworm disease too)!  Hence, it is important for you to help protect your fur baby from diseases spread by fleas, ticks, and mosquitos.


Fleas have the ability to cause flea allergy dermatitis (an allergic condition that can lead to severe itching and skin infections), they can spread tapeworms (an intestinal parasite) through ingestion of the fleas as the pet grooms, they can spread severe bacterial infections (especially in cats), and they can cause anemia (low red blood cell counts).

If fleas are found on your pet, that also means that they can be in your home environment.  Fleas lay thousands of eggs in their lifetime, which can be found in your carpet, bedding, in between floor boards, under radiators, etc.  If a flea infestation is noted in the home, one must not only treat the pets, but also the environment.  All pets in the home should be on your veterinarian’s recommended flea and tick preventative and your veterinarian can also provide you with guidance on premise sprays.  All bedding (pet and human bedding) should be washed frequently.  You should vacuum daily and empty the vacuum bag or canister outside once finished.  Additionally, you can even get a flea collar to place in the vacuum bag or canister so that any fleas or flea larvae (baby fleas) that are swept into the vacuum have a greater chanced of being eliminated.

It can take up to 3 to 4 months (or longer) to eliminate a flea infestation from the home, so being proactive and keeping your pet on year-round flea prevention can help avoid future headaches.



Ticks also have the ability to transmit numerous diseases to dogs and cats.  Lyme disease is a very common bacterial infection in dogs in our area.  It is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is spread by deer ticks.  Transmission of the bacteria requires that the tick be attached to the dog for about 48 to 50 hours.  The symptoms of Lyme disease only develop in 5 to 10% of infected dogs.  Although possible, it is not as common for dogs to develop the bull’s eye rash, which is often seen in people.  The symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs can include fever, lethargy, joint swelling, enlarged lymph nodes, and lameness (limping).  In more serious cases, Lyme disease can also negatively affect the kidneys, leading to kidney failure.  With this scenario, you may see increased thirst and urination, weight loss, vomiting, and decreased appetite.  Lyme disease can be treated with specific antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian.

Tick preventatives are imperative to help reduce the exposure of dogs to deer ticks, thereby, minimizing their exposure to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.  We also recommend that dogs be vaccinated against Lyme disease.  Lyme vaccines are initially given in a series of 2 vaccines, 2 to 3 weeks apart.  After the initial series, the Lyme vaccine is given annually.

Aside from Lyme disease, the other most common tick-borne bacterial diseases that dogs can get in our region are Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis.  Veterinarians typically perform a blood test called a 4Dx test annually in the hospital to evaluate for heartworm disease, Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, and Ehrlichiosis.  Like dogs with Lyme disease, those who have Anaplasmosis or Ehrlichiosis may have a fever, enlarged lymph nodes, lethargy, stiffness, and a decrease in appetite.  Anaplasmosis can also lead to a depletion of platelets (clotting factors) in the body, which can results in bruising on the skin.  Ehrlichiosis can lead to a decrease in the body’s white blood cell count.  Hence, if your dog is diagnosed with a tick-borne disease, it is beneficial to have your veterinarian also check a routine CBC (to evaluate the red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells in the body), a Chemistry panel (to assess kidney and liver function), and a urinalysis (to assess kidney function, especially in cases of Lyme disease).

Please be aware that cats are not exempt from tick-borne diseases.  We occasionally diagnose Anaplasmosis in kitties that go outdoors.


Heartworm Disease

It is also crucial to ensure that your dogs and cats are on heartworm preventatives.  Heartworm disease is caused by a potentially lethal parasite that is spread by mosquitos and can adversely affect the heart and lungs.  Annually, your dog should be tested for heartworm disease and heartworm prevention should be given year-round, as heartworm preventatives not only prevent heartworm disease, but they also deworm for several intestinal parasites on a monthly basis.

Although heartworm disease is less common in our feline friends, it is important to protect them against this potentially fatal disease as well.  Just one or two heartworms in the lungs or heart of a cat can be enough to cause severe lung disease or even lead to death.  Currently, there is no approved treatment for heartworm disease in cats, so prevention is essential.


Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Prevention

There are many different types of products available for dogs and cats to prevent fleas and ticks.  You should always choose a veterinary-approved product after a discussion with your veterinarian to determine what the most appropriate option is for your pet as an individual.

Here at Companion Pet Hospital, we offer several different options for flea, tick, and heartworm prevention in dogs and cats.  We also recommend year-round prevention given that Mother Nature is unpredictable and we sometimes have warm weather even in the middle of winter!


Below is a list of the products we carry:


Vectra 3D

This is a topical “spot-on” flea / tick preventative that we carry for dogs, which is applied to the skin along the dog’s back once monthly.  It is fast-acting and not only kills fleas and ticks on contact, but it repels fleas, ticks, mosquitos, biting and sand flies, lice, and mites.  Vectra 3D even remains effective after bathing and swimming.


This is a monthly oral flea / tick preventative for dogs.  This treat is easy to administer and won’t wash off like some topical products may.  Also, because it’s given orally, there is no residue left on the fur or skin.

Seresto Collar

This is a veterinary-approved flea / tick breakaway collar for dogs and cats that lasts for 8 months.  Pets can be bathed, or even swim with it on.  It’s easy to apply, it’s odorless and non-greasy, and it kills and repels fleas and ticks.


This is the flea and heartworm preventative that we carry for cats.  It is applied topically to the skin over the back of the cat’s neck once monthly.  It also deworms cats on a monthly basis for 2 intestinal parasites (roundworms and hookworms) and it treats ear mites.

Interceptor Plus

This is the monthly oral heartworm preventative that we stock for dogs.  It is a tasty, easy-to-administer chewable tablet that prevents heartworm disease, and deworms dogs on a monthly basis for 4 intestinal parasites (roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms).

Heartgard Plus

This is also a monthly oral heartworm preventative that we stock for dogs.  It is a tasty, east-to-administer chewable tablet that prevents heartworm disease, and deworms dogs on a monthly basis for 2 intestinal parasites (roundworms and hookworms).

As previously noted, you should consult with your veterinarian to see what is the best product for your situation.  We NEVER recommend purchasing over-the-counter products (for example, Hartz, Top Spot, Sargent’s to name a few), as we have seen severe adverse responses to many of these.  In general, if you ever feel that your pet is having an adverse or abnormal response to a flea and tick preventative, please contact a veterinarian immediately for guidance.

If you have any questions regarding flea, tick, and heartworm prevention for your pet, please contact us or schedule an appointment to review the best option for your family.




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