December is upon us, which means snow, ice, and sub-zero temperatures for much of the country. Here in lovely SoCal, we’re blessed with year-round mild weather that provides you and your pets with ample opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. But, because the weather remains relatively warm here year-round, your pets are constantly under threat from parasites. Colony Veterinary Hospital recommends year-round parasite control to protect your pets from fleas, ticks, heartworms, and the deadly diseases they can carry. Here are the top parasite threats and the reasons you should remain vigilant this winter, and beyond.

#1: Pet heartworm disease

Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes, the ever-present pests that torment you year-round. Although mosquito season peaks in the summer when temperatures and humidity are highest, the season never completely ends. Heartworm disease can develop in dogs, cats, and ferrets several months after they contract immature worms from infected mosquitoes, who pick up the immature worms after biting an infected animal. The worms make their way to the pet’s heart and lungs, where they grow up to a foot long and cause irreversible, life-threatening damage. Wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions, and other pets can act as reservoirs for heartworm disease, so the threat is never eliminated. Thankfully, affordable monthly medication can easily prevent heartworm infection and disease, so long as the preventives are given year-round, since only a two- or three-month lapse allows infection to take hold. 

#2: Pet tick-borne diseases

Ticks, like mosquitoes, have high and low seasons, but they remain somewhat active year-round. A single tick bite can transmit multiple diseases, which can cause varied illness signs and chronic or life-threatening complications in your pet. The most common tick-borne diseases (i.e., Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever) cause signs ranging from vague fevers and lethargy, to anemia, clotting disorders, inflammatory arthritis, eye inflammation, kidney failure, or death. Tick prevention requires vigilance and a multi-pronged approach that includes preventive medications as the mainstay. Prevention products kill ticks after they attach, and some also repel them. Always check your pet for ticks after being outdoors, especially if you’ve been in wooded areas with dense, tall grass. Monthly preventives ensure that ticks you’ve missed are eventually killed, and reduce the opportunity for disease spread.

#3: Pet flea infestations and flea-borne diseases

Fleas are a nuisance year-round because of their persistent life cycle, and only one female flea can cause an infestation. Adult fleas live on pets and wildlife, taking blood meals to reproduce and rapidly lay eggs that fall off into the environment, and hatch into larvae in a few days. The larvae soon become pupae, which are highly resistant to insecticides, and can remain inactive by hiding in old carpets, floor cracks, and bedding for long time periods until a host becomes available. Eliminating a flea infestation can be incredibly challenging because of their hardiness, and requires treating all your pets continuously for at least six months, treating their environment, and cleaning the house daily. 

Fleas can cause allergic reactions, itching, and hair loss, and can carry diseases, including murine typhus, cat-scratch disease, tapeworms, and the infamous plague. Some flea-borne diseases can also infect humans, so infestation prevention protects the whole family. Use a monthly or quarterly prevention product that kills fleas as they jump onto your pet to prevent the hassle and risk of infestation.

#4: Pet intestinal parasites

Most puppies and kittens are born with intestinal parasites, which have a unique life cycle, so young pets should be dewormed every few weeks. As adults, pets can contract intestinal worms from soil or any surface contaminated with eggs, which are difficult to kill in the environment. Intestinal parasites commonly cause diarrhea, and may cause anemia and associated complications from blood loss in severe cases. Roundworms can also infect humans, usually children, and may travel to the nervous system or eyes and cause serious damage, including blindness. Most monthly heartworm prevention medications also contain an ingredient to control intestinal parasites, which can keep your pet and children safe when administered year-round.

Colony Veterinary Hospital offers several heartworm, flea, and tick prevention product options, so you’re sure to find one that works for your pet. Pets may begin flea and tick prevention any time, but they need a heartworm blood test prior to beginning a heartworm preventive. If your pet is due for a heartworm test or fecal parasite test, or if you have questions regarding the best protection for your pet, call to schedule a visit with our knowledgeable team.