By Mickey Zeldes
Mosquitoes, fleas and ticks – our summertime pests are out in full force this year! Each brings itchy skin, allergic reactions and disease; a lovely trio of issues that all pet owners need to diligently deal with. That’s definitely the downside to our wonderful summers in Sonoma County – those pests and did I mention foxtails? Not a live bug but definitely a hazardous nuisance!
Mosquitos carry heartworms and those can be fatal to our pets. Typically thought of as a dog disease, we now know that cats are just as much at risk. It is not common yet to test cats for that disease but as evening-time hunters, outdoor cats have a much higher chance of exposure. Mosquitos also carry myxomatosis, a fatal rabbit disease so bunnies that live outdoors in hutches are at higher risk and there’s no vaccine yet for this illness. Be sure to empty any standing water in your yard, as that is prime real estate for breeding mosquitos.
Fleas are terrible little bugs whose bites can cause intense itching. For animals with allergies to flea saliva, just one bite can cause a full body reaction. Dogs with itchy skin will chew themselves raw and cause hot spots that can become infected. It’s a vicious cycle all set off by a single bite from a flea. Cats also get itchy skin and scabs from scratching so much. Fleas carry tapeworms so if you find fleas on your pet you need to be on the lookout for the tell-tale signs of this internal parasite – often noticed as small white rice shaped segments in the animals’ poop or caught in the fur around the anus. You can get tapeworm medication from your vet but remember, each time your pet gets infested with fleas they can get tapeworms again.
How do you know if your pet has fleas? If you don’t actually see the small bugs moving through your pet’s fur, comb him over a white towel or empty the comb on a paper towel. If you see what looks like pepper, that’s the poop that fleas leave behind. Think its just dirt? Put a drop of water on it and see what happens. If it turns red (they drink blood and poop blood!) its flea dirt! Sometimes when we bathe new dogs the water looks like blood running off them because they have so much of the flea dirt on them.
Ticks are nasty bloodsuckers and carry a number of diseases including Lyme disease. It’s very important that you check your pet over carefully after any outing. Removing the ticks before they latch on is best! Be sure to wear gloves and kill the tick by dropping him in a container of alcohol. Once the tick has latched on, you want to carefully pull him out making sure the head comes out as well. Using special tick removers is the easiest way to grab them but tweezers gripped as close to the head as possible can also work. Then just pull straight out. You can buy tick removers at most pet stores. If you find fully engorged ticks on your pet that means they’ve been attached for some time. You might discuss this with your vet to see if antibiotics or a tick disease panel is warranted. Early treatment can catch Lyme disease before it becomes debilitating.
Foxtails are a barbed weed that easily gets caught in fur and can work its way into the body and do severe damage to internal organs. The ones that enter through the ears and nose are most easily noticed because of the animals’ reaction - sneezing and head shaking gives clear indications that something is amiss. The ones missed most often are those that work their way between the toes and enter the body that way. If you notice your pet licking a paw to the point of creating a sore, be sure to have it looked at by your vet. Easier still is to check between the toes and all over your pet after each walk.
So many nasty things are out there that can ruin a perfectly lovely day if you aren’t vigilant! Fortunately, there are plenty of flea and tick control products available. And grooming your pet regularly can not only keep him/her pest free, it can really cement your bond. Think of it as a love gesture instead of a boring chore!
No More Lost Pets – free microchips and pet ID tags for residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati City. Stop by the shelter during our open hours with your pet to get one! The shelter is open Wed 1-6:30 p.m., Thur-Fri-Sat 1-5:30 p.m. and Sun 1-4:30 p.m.
Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs.) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531 for an appointment.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.