Ticks, Fleas, and Heartworms: Is Your Pet Protected From These Parasites?
This time of year, we start thinking more about parasites like ticks, fleas, and even heartworms bothering our pets. Although ticks and fleas may remain active year round in the Toronto area, all of these parasites become more of a threat as the weather starts to warm up or if you travel to areas where these parasites and diseases are common.
If infected, the ticks we have in southern Ontario can transmit several diseases to both pets and people, including:
- Lyme disease—Although Lyme disease hasn’t been considered a concern in Toronto in the past, as deer (black-legged) ticks creep farther northward, this disease has been diagnosed in pets in our area. Ticks infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, have been found in the city, including in West Deane Park, Colonel Danforth Park, and Bob Hunter Park, and in the suburbs.
- Ehrlichiosis—Ticks that transmit this disease can be found all the way up to New England in the US and are now moving into Canada as well.
Ticks can also transmit other diseases to pets, including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
People can get anaplasmosis and babesiosis too, as well as Powassan virus, tularemia, red meat (alpha-gal) allergy, and a number of other diseases from ticks. Many of these diseases aren’t yet common in Canada, but they can be spread from ticks during travel to endemic areas (such as those in the United States where the diseases are common).
In both pets and people (particularly children), 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.
Because ticks that can transmit these diseases are moving into new areas each year, some ticks and diseases that are common in the northern US may soon make their way across the border.
See our March blog article for symptoms of tickborne diseases in pets.
Fleas tend to be more common in the warmer, wetter months (summer and fall), but they can survive throughout the year in the right conditions. Plus, once they’re inside your home, fleas can multiply quickly and be quite frustrating and hard to get rid of.
Although most people tend to think of fleas as irritating insects that bite pets, these wingless blood suckers can also feed on people and cause problems in pets that are much more severe than just itching, including:
- Flea allergy dermatitis—Also known as FAD, this common condition affects pets who are allergic to flea saliva, causing itchy, inflamed skin and hair loss. It can lead to skin infections when pets scratch and bite themselves repeatedly. Even just a few flea bites can cause FAD.
- Tapeworms—Cats and dogs (and people—usually children) can get tapeworms if they swallow an infected flea.
- Anemia—Puppies and kittens with flea infestations can suffer from serious, potentially life-threatening blood loss.
- Bartonella—Pets and people can also be infected with Bartonella bacteria (which causes cat scratch disease in humans).
Flea control is essential for pets with FAD and may be needed for other pets at risk for flea infestation.
Although heartworms are still not that commonly diagnosed in southern Ontario, these mosquito-transmitted parasites are being found in dogs in Toronto. Dogs who have travelled to parts of the US that have heartworms are becoming infected and bringing them back to the city and surrounding areas. Heartworm disease has also been diagnosed in dogs with no history of travel outside our area.
Heartworm disease can be deadly and is difficult to treat. As with ticks and fleas, prevention is the best medicine, so if your pet is travelling to or through areas where heartworm is common, we may recommend a heartworm disease preventive.
Know Your Pet’s Risk
Ticks, fleas, and heartworms are a problem in other areas of Canada, as well as in the US, so if you travel with your pet, you’ll want to be aware of the risk where you’re headed. You can check out the Parasite Prevalence maps from the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), which show the infection risk of tick-borne diseases, as well as heartworm, in both Canada and the US.
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 sticking around home, let’s make sure your pet has the right parasite control.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alpha-gal allergy. https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/alpha-gal/index.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Tickborne diseases of the United States. https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/diseases/index.html
- City of Toronto. Blacklegged tick surveillance. https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/health-wellness-care/health-programs-advice/lyme-disease/blacklegged-tick-surveillance-results/
- Government of Canada. Fleas. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/pest-control-tips/fleas.html
- Pets and Ticks. Tick tracker maps. https://www.petsandticks.com/2019-tick-maps
- Tick Talk (Canadian Veterinary Medical Association). Welcome to Tick Talk. https://ticktalkcanada.com/