WORMING

Worming is one of the first health care issues pet owners need to address as pups and kittens are the most susceptible. There are two broad categories of worms that may affect our pet dogs and cats: intestinal worms and heartworms.

INTESTINAL WORMS:

As their name suggests, intestinal worms are parasites that live inside your pet's intestines. These worms range in size from small to surprisingly large (up to 18cm in length). Regardless of their size however, they all have negative and potentially deadly effects.

Common intestinal worms in Australian pets are:

  • Roundworm
  • Tapeworm
  • Whipworm
  • Hookworm

If your pet has a large number of worms it may find it difficult to maintain body condition and it can lose weight. In some cases it can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and even anaemia (a low red blood cell level). Occasionally, heavy intestinal worm burdens can cause death.

There is no product available to PREVENT your pet from getting intestinal worms. Therefore, re-infection is a common problem, particularly in pets that are in contact with a heavily contaminated environment. This is why it is important to maintain a routine worming TREATMENT for your pets to get rid of any intestinal worms that they may have picked up.

Another very important reason to worm your pets is to protect your family. Intestinal worms are zoonotic - meaning they can be passed from animal to human and human to animal. Children in particular can become infected with certain dog and cat worms very easily.

Below are some tips to consider regarding worm prevention:

  • Promptly clean up pet faeces in your yard
  • Practice good hygiene, always encourage children to wash their hands regularly (especially after playing in dirt or sandpits, playing with pets or prior to eating)
  • Prevent children from playing where the soil may be contaminated
  • Keep your pet's environment clean
  • Always dispose of dog faeces when in public areas

HEARTWORM:

Heartworm is a parasite that is spread by mosquitoes, and as the name indicates, they are worms that mature in the heart. They can cause a thickening of the heart and associated blood vessels and can even cause physical blockages. In the early stages of infection there may be no visible signs, however, infection may eventually lead to signs of heart failure (reluctance to exercise, lethargy, coughing) and even death.

Thankfully, heartworm is very easy to prevent and should form part of your pet health care routine. If your pet has not been on heartworm prevention we strongly recommend starting a prevention program, followed by a heartworm test six months after commencing.

For more information on the different types of worms, and for all your worming treatments, come on in and let our friendly staff help you.

FLEAS AND TICKS

Having a flea and/or tick infestation can be the most annoying problem faced by you and your pet. It only takes a few fleas and ticks to start an infestation.

FLEAS:

Fleas are parasites that feed directly on warm-blooded animals. Usually your pet dog or cat will serve as the best host. They can sometimes be hard to get rid of and seem to come from nowhere. If we understand the flea's life cycle better, controlling them will be easier.

Fleas go through four stages in the lifecycle. The first stage is the flea egg. The adult female fleas lay the eggs. Eggs typically make up 50% of an infestation in the home. The female flea lays her eggs in the hair coat of the host (your pet). Since the eggs are not sticky, they fall off the host into the environment. Thus, flea eggs may be deposited in all those places where a dog or cat has access. Female fleas can lay from 20 to 50 eggs a day and up to 2000 eggs during their lifetime. Eggs usually hatch in 1 to 10 days, depending on temperature and humidity.

Once a flea egg hatches, they are known as flea larvae - the second stage of the lifecycle. Newly hatched flea larvae are worm like and are free moving. They survive by feeding on organic debris found in their environment and on adult flea faeces. Since larvae are negatively phototactic (avoid light) and positively geotropic (prefer to move downward), they are found deep in carpet fibres, mattress or couch stuffing materials or organic debris (branches, leaves, etc.). They accumulate in areas where the animal spends a great amount of time. These "hotspots" are typically in pet resting areas. The larval stage usually lasts 5 to 11 days, depending upon the availability of food and the climatic conditions, and will account for about 35% of an infestation in a home.

The third stage is called pupae. This is when the larva produces a silk-like cocoon in which it pupates (turns into an adult flea). In most homes, the pupation can be completed within 5 to 14 days in ideal conditions. Once the pupa has fully developed, the adult flea will remain inside the cocoon for several days to several weeks until stimulated to emerge from the cocoon. Physical pressure (being stepped on), carbon dioxide (that mammals exhale), vibration (from walking, or vacuuming) and heat (generated by potential hosts or heated homes) can all stimulate emergence. If the adult doesn't receive the proper stimulus to emerge, it can remain dormant in the cocoon for several weeks and possibly as long as one year. Added to this is the fact that there are no chemical sprays available on the market today that can penetrate the pupael cocoon. House sprays will kill exposed eggs and larvae, but pupae will remain unaffected and will hatch at some point long after the residual effect of most sprays has expired. Pupae commonly make up 10% of the infestation in a home.

Once the flea emerges from the cocoon, it immediately begins seeking a host. Newly emerged fleas are attracted to pets by various stimuli produced by these hosts: body heat, movement and exhaled carbon dioxide. A flea that emerges from the pupael cocoon due to the pressure of the pet stepping on it, can hatch, jump on the pet as it is walking by, and begin feeding in as little as seven seconds. A female flea will begin egg production within 48 hours of having its first blood meal and mating.

In contrast to larvae, adult fleas will orient and move towards light. If the newly emerged flea does not find a host, it can survive for one to three weeks before requiring a blood meal, but once they initiate feeding the flea must be able to feed again within four days or it will die. Therefore, once on a suitable host, fleas do not leave their host voluntarily. They remain until removed by ingestion, grooming behaviour, dying a natural death, or dying from chemical induced death (insecticide application). Adult fleas may live as long as four months. Fleas are wingless, but have strongly developed legs that permit them to jump up to 100 times their own body length (approx. 20cm vertically and 40cm horizontally). Adults make up only about 5% of a population.

Depending upon temperature and humidity, the entire life cycle of the flea can be completed in as little as 12 to 14 days under ideal conditions, or be prolonged to six months and possibly as long as a year. However, under average household conditions, fleas will complete their life cycle within three to four weeks.

As well as the irritation that your pet will suffer from the bites themselves, dogs and cats can also have a reaction to flea saliva resulting in a skin condition called Flea Allergy Dermatitis or FAD. Treatment of FAD can be complicated and veterinary consultation is recommended.

Some signs that your pet may have fleas include:

  • Scratching, biting and hair loss, especially at the base of the tail and rump
  • You may see fleas (especially over the rump and in the groin region)
  • It can be difficult to find the fleas, but it is relatively easy to check for flea dirt (flea poo - which is digested blood). Simply moisten a cotton ball, part your pet's fur and place the cotton ball on the skin over the rump. If the cotton ball takes on black specs surrounded by a reddish area, this may be flea dirt and can indicate that your pet has fleas.

Warning: Some non-veterinary brands of flea treatments for dogs are potentially lethal when applied to cats. Always seek veterinary advice about the best flea treatments for your pet. There are several flea products on the market for purchase. We are happy to help you select the best product for your pet and assist you with any additional information or enquiries that you may have.

TICKS:

There are three types of ticks seen on pets - Bush Tick (sometimes referred to as Cattle Tick), Brown Dog Tick and Paralysis Tick. All ticks are cause for concern as a large infestation of Bush or Brown Dog Ticks can cause anaemia (a low red blood cell level). The main tick of concern for pet owners however, is the Paralysis Tick. It can only take one of these ticks to cause paralysis and death shortly after attachment.

Paralysis Ticks occur naturally in certain geographic areas (mainly along the coastal eastern seaboard of Australia). Townsville however, is very lucky in the fact that we don't see a lot of Paralysis Ticks in the main "city" suburbs. Traveling out from Townsville in any direction, and you are bound to find them in larger populations. Worrying though, is that Paralysis Ticks can hitch a ride back with you or a neighbour while visiting these areas.

If you notice a tick on a pet that is not displaying signs of tick paralysis, remove the tick straight away. To do this, grasp the tick firmly where it attaches to your pet's skin and give a quick sideways pull. It is better not to try and kill the tick first, because if it is a Paralysis Tick, it may inject more of its potent toxin into your pet while dying. Once removed, you can kill the tick by placing it into a small container with a small amount of methylated spirits. You can bring the tick into us for identification if you feel that it may be a Paralysis Tick. If you are not confident removing the tick please call us immediately to advise us that you need to come down to have it removed.

If your pet shows any signs of tick paralysis, such as wobbling or unable to use back legs, altered bark, vomiting, weakness, staggering, or breathing difficulty, seek immediate veterinary attention, as this is a genuine veterinary emergency. If your pet is showing any of the above signs, do not offer food or water as these may be accidentally inhaled into the lungs in paralysis tick-affected dogs.

No matter what type of tick, having them is not fun for you or your dog. They can sometimes be hard to get rid of and seem to come from nowhere. If we understand the tick's life cycle better, controlling them will be easier.

Ticks have a three-host cycle, meaning that they need to attach to three different animals throughout their lifecycle. They start out as eggs, which the female tick will lay. Engorged with blood from feeding off a host, females fall to the ground and lay their eggs. Female ticks lay around 2000 eggs in shaded, humid leaf litter in the spring.

Tick eggs hatch as six-legged larvae in the summer of the same year they were laid. They're about the size of the full stop at the end of this sentence, so they usually go unnoticed. The larvae remain inactive until the next spring, when they climb grass and wait for the first of the three hosts they'll need to feed from during their life cycle. Potential hosts may include mice, rabbits, birds, livestock, cats, dogs and humans. Tick larvae spend up to a week feeding from the host, before they detach and fall to the ground. They spend the winter in a state of suspended animation known as diapause.

In the spring of the following year, the tick larvae moult into eight-legged nymphs. Once again, they climb the grass and search for a new host. Then they feed on this second host for up to 11 days. Finally, they detach and fall to the ground, where they mature into adults.

Tick nymphs moult into adults in about a month, but remain inactive till the following spring, when they start to search for the final host. Adult female ticks will feed on the final host for 8-12 days, increasing their weight by as much as 100 times, before they fall to the ground to lay their eggs and the cycle starts all over again.

In all, ticks complete their life cycle in 3 years, although cool summers and warm winters can modify the cycle.

There are a few products on the market to help combat a tick burden problem. Remember it takes time and patience to get the ticks under control. The ticks have a long life cycle, so it's important to continue to treat your pet to avoid reinfestation. Spraying the environment (your yard), can also help to get a tick problem under control quicker.

No tick prevention is 100% effective and should always be used in combination with daily searches of your pet. Use your fingers to feel over the entire body, especially under the collar, on the face and around the front of your pet. Don't forget to check carefully between the toes, under the lips and in the ears.

We are more than happy to show you how to do a thorough tick search, and to help you select products to help combat tick infestations.

Nutrition

Along with regular exercise and veterinary care, careful nutrition is the best way you can contribute to your pet's prolonged good health. Remember that your pet has much different nutritional and health requirements to humans therefore; your pet should never be fed "human" food! They need a perfectly balanced doggy diet, which is why we sell and recommend Royal Canin pet food. For 40 years, Royal Canin have been researching and developing new nutritional solutions to best feed your pet.

How do you make sure your pet's diet is healthy?

We strongly recommend that you:

  • Feed premium pet foods. Premium foods offer high-quality ingredients, are made by companies specialising in nutritional research, and show a solid track record of quality and palatability. Feeding generic pet foods may lead to obesity, irregular bowel movements, or excess intestinal gas.
  • Make sure the food is fresh. When you purchase pet food, check for freshness and purchase only the amount necessary for your pet. Store pet food in a cool, dry place and keep it tightly closed. Discard uneaten food and always place fresh food in a clean bowl. In general, hard food (or "kibble") is preferred for maintaining dental health and minimising tartar build-up.
  • Feed the right amount. Ask us or check the label for how much to feed according to your pet's ideal weight (not necessarily the same as their current weight). Avoid feeding pets as much as they want or feeding a large amount at one time. Doing so can lead to obesity, gastrointestinal upset, or even bloat, a life threatening condition.
  • Maintain a daily routine. A regular schedule will help your pet keep normal bowel movements and avoid indoor accidents. Younger pets need to be fed more frequently, as they are usually more energetic and burn more calories.
  • Avoid "people" food. Feeding table scraps will result in an unbalanced diet, can cause stomach upsets or even life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas.
  • Water is the most essential nutrient in any diet. Your pet's body is made up of approximately 70% water and will quickly perish without it. Ensure your pet can access fresh, clean water at all times.
  • Bones can be given to your pet as a treat. We recommend giving your dog or cat bones one-two times a week. RAW BONES should only be given, NEVER GIVE COOKED BONES! A good meaty bone will help to keep your pets teeth nice and clean.
  • Your pet's digestive system can be easily upset by sudden or frequent changes. Each diet change means that the digestive system has to adapt, which may cause things like tummy upsets, loose stools or diarrhoea. This is why ideally your dog should be fed the same food everyday. Dogs are perfectly happy eating the same complete, balance food everyday and do not get "sick" of it. If you do need to change your pet's diet, it should be done gradually to limit stomach upset. Doing it this way will also help eliminate non-tolerance of the new food. You can use the following guide to help you introduce the new food while weaning out the old food.

Day 1 and 2 - 75% of "old" food + 25% of "new" food
Day 3 and 4 - 50% of "old" food + 50% of "new" food
Day 5 and 6 - 25% of "old" food + 75% of "new" food
Day 7 - 100% of "new" food

We are happy to help you select a pet food from our large range of Royal Canin food available at the clinic. We are also happy to advise you on any other nutritional care queries you may have regarding your pet's diet.

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