Summer Creepies: Fleas and an Organism Named Leptospirosis

Summer Creepies,  By Dr. Patricia Hart

Now that fall is drawing near, it’s time to think about your winter wardrobe, your ski pass and…parasite control!  As the humidity builds, fleas and mites get happy and an organism named Leptospirosis starts to prosper in those stagnant water sources.Ticks start getting active again when the nights start cooling off (when  the serenade of the peeper frogs starts back up).

By now you have started your flea and tick prevention but still be very careful about who your pet is visiting and vice versa.  Flea control only works on the flea it meets on your pet. If you see a flea on your pet you can bet there are up to 100 times that living in the house. The flea only stays on your pet to catch a meal.  All the eggs are made to fall off into the environment (that means your house).  If a visiting dog or cat arrives in your house with fleas, your pet’s flea prevention may not be able to conquer every flea because there are more fleas in the house than on your pet. The earliest sign of a flea infestation is flea dirt, the digested blood the flea leaves behind. Take a fine toothed comb and comb (your pet) liberally then check the tuft of hair.  If there are black speckles that dissolve into blood when moistened, you have fleas in the house even if your pet isn’t itching and even if you never see a flea.  Flea bite dermatitis is an allergy to the saliva of the flea.  Only one bite from one flea every 2 weeks can create this reaction in susceptible animals.  Dogs are much more commonly affected by this as they are not the natural host of the flea. The telltail (!) symptom  of flea bite dermatitis is if your dog gnaws at the top of his tail.  Just getting rid of all fleas won’t stop the reaction, it needs to be treated as a real allergy.

Leptospirosis is a bacteria similar to the Lyme organism.  Your pet can contract the disease in the summer months but not show signs until early winter. It is transmitted in this area by wildlife such as skunks, opossums and rats contaminating water sources. Symptoms are those of kidney and liver failure and can be life threatening. There is a vaccine available for dogs, cats appear less susceptible and cannot be vaccinated.  Prevention in this area is difficult aside from vaccination, but detecting symptoms early is key.  Dogs usually act pretty well initially but start drinking more water and not wanting to eat.  Because they aren’t acting really sick aside from these symptoms they aren’t brought in right away and so often the disease is very far progressed by the time of diagnosis.  On top of that, it’s a contagious disease with some health risks to humans, so they also have been transmitting the disease for a bit before diagnosed.  In this area, November though December are peak months of symptoms appearing.

Now quick… go enjoy the rest of the summer!

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