by Dr. Jolene Duncan, Lyons Veterinary Clinic
Parasites, despite popular belief, can be a problem in Colorado. Historically and compared to other parts of the country, Colorado has had a low prevalence of parasites such as heartworms, ticks, and fleas. Over the past several years the numbers of pets diagnosed with parasite infections has been on the rise. The reason is likely a combination ofchanging weather patterns and unstable economic times. Whatever the cause, the increased numbers are likely here to stay.
Heartworm disease is present throughout the country, including Lyons and the surrounding areas. This disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Even dogs living in isolated areas are at risk because heartworms can also be carried by wild dogs such as coyotes and foxes. Microscopic heartworm larvae then migrate to the larger blood vessels of the heart where they grow to adults, obstruct blood flow, and eventually cause heart failure. Most dogs infected with heartworms show no outward signs of their disease; they can only be diagnosed through a blood test. Medications are available to prevent heartworm infections. These medications are very small doses given on a monthly basis and are extremely safe and effective. Consult with your veterinarian to determine which medication is best for your pet.
Flea and tick populations are increasing in Colorado as well. Ticks used to live primarily in heavily wooded areas, but recently have begun creeping into neighborhoods and backyards that were once considered “safe” from ticks. Fleas have also expanded into new areas of Colorado. Just a few years ago it was rare to see pets with fleas in this area; last summer flea infections were common. Fleas and ticks can also transmit a variety of other diseases which could result in weight loss, severe blood loss or even paralysis. Over-the-counter flea and tick medications are generally ineffective, poorly labeled, and often have toxic side effects. There are a large number of products on the market for treating and/or preventing flea and/or tick problems. Each product has its own pros and cons, so the best way to choose the product that meets the needs of your pet is to talk to your veterinarian.
The problems caused by parasites and the diseases they carry are treatable and reversible if caught early. A better way of protecting your beloved pet is to give them medications to prevent infection with heartworms, ticks, or fleas. When chosen correctly, with the advise of your veterinarian, these preventatives are a safe and effective way to prevent the discomfort and illness associated with parasite infections in your pet.