Pet Health

Fleas, Ticks, and Mosquitoes…Oh My!

Forget lions, tigers and bears! When it comes to our pets, fleas, ticks and mosquitoes can cause problems for all pets including allergies, intestinal parasites, Lyme disease and heartworm disease.


Fleas and ticks: Is your pet protected from these parasites?

Fleas and ticks pose a risk to pets and people in Waterdown, Hamilton and the entire GTA. Besides feeding on blood, fleas and ticks also transmit serious illnesses. Preventing flea and tick bites can help keep your pet healthy.


Fleas and flea diseases

Fleas are more common in warmer months, but they can survive throughout the year in the right conditions. Plus, once they’re inside your home, fleas can multiply quickly and be difficult to clear from your home.


Although most people tend to think of fleas as irritating insects that bite pets, these wingless blood suckers also feed on people, causing problems like:

  • Flea allergy dermatitis. Pets who are allergic to flea saliva get itchy, inflamed skin and hair loss from only one or two flea bites.
  • Tapeworms. Cats and dogs can get tapeworms from swallowing an infected flea.
  • Pets and people can also be infected with Bartonella bacteria, which causes cat scratch disease in humans. It can also cause serious symptoms in dogs, including an enlarged liver or spleen or even inflammation of the heart or brain.



The main ticks we have in Ontario are Deer (Blacklegged) ticks, American dog ticks, Brown dog ticks, and Lone star ticks. Deer ticks are active any time the outdoor temperature is at or above four degrees Celsius. Since warmer microclimates (areas that may be warmer because of protection from wind, reflection of sunshine) can exist, we feel pets are at risk anytime it is above zero. Wide temperature fluctuations are the norm for Waterdown winters, so to keep our pets safe, we recommend year-round tick prevention.


Tick diseases in dogs

The ticks we have in our area can transmit several diseases to dogs, including:

Common signs of these tick-transmitted diseases include fever, swollen, painful joints, enlarged lymph nodes, and lethargy; however, many infections are not obvious until later in the course of the disease.


Ticks can also cause tick paralysis, a serious, potentially deadly condition in which the nervous system is attacked by a toxin in the tick’s saliva.


Tick diseases in cats

Cats aren’t immune from ticks and the parasites they transit either. The parasites can cause tick paralysis and several diseases in cats, including Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis. Other tick-borne diseases, such as cytauxzoonosis and tularemia, although rare, can be deadly in cats.


Ticks can be hard to spot, especially in your pet’s fur. Adult Deer ticks are about the size of a sesame seed, and nymphs (immature ticks) are only about the size of a poppy seed! Dr. Zak recommends keeping all dogs and cats on flea and tick control year-round to make sure fleas and ticks do not cause problems for your pet. 


Anywhere mosquitoes can live, heartworm disease is a concern.

  • Heartworm larvae (baby heartworms) are transmitted by mosquitoes.
    • The larvae mature into adult heartworms in the heart and pulmonary artery (the main vessel entering the lungs), causing serious damage to the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels.
  • Transmission can’t be prevented but we can stop these larvae from developing into harmful adults.
    • Heartworm preventives can eliminate the larvae within one to two months of infection, protecting your pet against heartworm disease.


What if you miss that crucial prevention window?

  • Untreated, adult heartworms can grow up to a foot or more in length and cause lasting damage to a pet’s heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
  • Clinical signs in Ontario dogs, such as coughing and weakness, often aren’t seen until the parasite has done years of internal damage. And unfortunately, this damage is irreversible.
  • Treatment of an adult heartworm infection can be difficult, costly, and even fatal for the pet.
  • No treatment has been approved for cats with heartworm disease.


Cats with heartworms, both larvae and adults, may have other signs of infection, such as vomiting or diarrhea, trouble walking, fainting, or seizures. Early signs of heartworm disease in cats may resemble those of asthma, when in fact, they’re signs of what is called “heartworm-associated respiratory disease” or HARD. Even just one or two heartworms in cats can cause severe symptoms and be life-threatening.


Why do we test for heartworm disease?

Annual testing for heartworm disease is essential for all dogs, even for those on year-round preventives. If a dose was accidentally missed or your dog vomited or spit out the medication unnoticed, the dog might not be protected against heartworm disease…and you would never know it! And it’s worth noting that some preventives can cause life-threatening reactions in dogs with adult heartworms, so a yearly test is always a good idea.


What do we recommend when it comes to preventing heartworm disease?

Protecting our patients against heartworm disease is a top priority for us at Parkside Animal Hospital. Although heartworm disease can be deadly, it is preventable. It’s also much easier and safer for your pet to prevent than treat.


The bottom line

Fleas, ticks, and heartworm disease are a risk in Waterdown and around the province. Being proactive is the best way to help keep your pet and your entire family safe. That’s why Dr. Zak recommends year-round parasite control for all our patients.


If you’re planning a trip, give us a call so we can make sure you’re stocked up on the parasite preventives you’ll need to help keep your pet protected while you travel. And if you’re staying home, let’s make sure your pet has the right parasite control to prevent tick and flea infestations. Call us today to make sure your pet is protected!


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