Our homes and yards are relatively safe for our dogs. After all, this isn’t life in the wild. We can’t make everything safe, however, and some offensive measures are crucial to the health of our dogs. Preventative medicine for your dog is one way to block risky canine diseases and illnesses.
Insects, the environment, and other animals pose risks to your pet. Dogs are active and fun loving creatures, so we can’t wrap them in a bubble to keep them safe. Luckily, there are many medications and natural remedies to pests like fleas and even dangerous parasites like heartworm and ticks.
- Heartworm And Fleas- A Dangerous Duo
- The Risks Fleas Pose To Dogs
- The Risks Associated With Heartworm
- Tick Prevention
- Lyme Disease
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Tick Removal For Brave Pet Owners
- Using Preventative Methods To Keep Your Dog Healthy
Heartworm And Fleas- A Dangerous Duo
While there are several preventative dog medications and treatments to consider, the two heavy hitters are flea and heartworm prevention products. Why is it necessary to protect your pet from fleas and heartworm?
Did you know that the fleas that live on your cat are different than the fleas that feast on dogs? There are more than 2,000 types of fleas, in fact. Pop that fact into your mind and let the nightmares ensue!
Fleas are jumpers by trade and can leap well over their own size. They top out at about 1/8th of an inch and can leap between under an inch and seven inches. That may not sound like much to you, but it’s a superhero kind of trick for something as tiny as a flea.
That brings me to my first risk concerning fleas: they’re tough to spot. Your dog can have a flea infestation without you even realizing it. There are a couple of tricks to spot them, however. Sit your dog on a white towel and pet and play with him. If he has fleas, you’ll probably see some black specs appear and vanish on that towel.
You can also part your dog’s fur, especially any white patches, and look for wiggling, specs, and flea evidence like eggs and droppings. Flea droppings will turn red when dropped in water, which is a way you can check whether what you see is just regular dirt or flea poop. Flea eggs, conversely, look like dandruff.
If left unchecked, fleas can cause skin conditions like dermatitis. This is fairly common and caused by an allergic reaction your dog has to the saliva of the flea. Flea drool is bad, you guys. It will make your dog itch if he is allergic and can cause visible skin irritations as well.
If that weren’t bad enough, fleas can cause tapeworm. Tapeworm is a terrifying parasite that lives in the digestive system of your dog. It can cause malnutrition and weight loss among other complications. You want to avoid this by preventing fleas or eradicating them when they show up.
In small dogs, puppies, and heavily infested dogs, fleas can cause anemia. This occurs because the fleas are feeding on your dog’s blood. Ok, so this isn’t one of our more heart warming articles here, but information is power. Not only do you want to prevent this situation in your own dog, but anytime you adopt a dog from a situation of neglect, make sure a vet checks them for anemia.
Fleas may bite you although they can’t live on you exclusively. That doesn’t mean they can’t transmit some nasty conditions ranging from the plague to cat scratch fever.
Getting Rid Of Fleas
Your vet will recommend flea prevention medication for your dog. It’s probable you’ll use one of the popular topical treatments for fleas like Frontline, Advantage, or Advantix. These treatments come in a small tube. You squeeze them on your dog’s skin near the nape of the neck. They kill and repel mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks and last around a month. If you want to know more, you can check our comparison review between Frontline and Nexgard.
These flea topical treatments come in various brands with their own set of pros and cons. Make sure to read the label before purchasing or consult your vet. You can purchase these products from your vet, from the internet, and through mail order pet catalogs.
They’re pretty handy, but many owners don’t like this method. If you feel unsure about these treatments (they are perfectly safe for most dogs) you can use flea pills or try natural treatments instead.
Occasionally, dogs have a reaction to this medication, in which case you’ll need to use an alternative treatment.
How Do Flea Pills For Dogs Work?
Flea pills, on the other hand, are ingested. Most also work for about a month and take effect quickly. Capguard and Capstar are two popular brands of this medication. They come in pills your dog can swallow or chew-able tablets that are flavored like tasty treats. These pills work very fast and can start battling back your flea problem in as little as four hours.
You may need a prescription from your vet and you should talk to them about the safety of flea pills. Many dogs do great with this treatment while others can have a reaction to the medication. Take any potential side effects into account when you are making your flea prevention choice.
How About Natural Flea Killer?
I’m a huge fan of natural treatments for myself and my pets, but I can’t truly tell you if that is the right way to go for you. There just isn’t an adequate amount of information out there about their safety and effectiveness. That being said, I am going to provide you with some information about natural flea killers and you can make your own decision together with your vet. You may be able to safely combine some of these treatments with whatever conventional treatment your vet recommends.
Flea Collars- Not Natural But Wearable
While flea collars aren’t exactly natural, they are an old school, less invasive way to prevent fleas from hitching a ride on your dog. They’re best used in conjunction with some other treatment. If you do this combo treatment to battle back an infestation, be sure you speak with your vet. This will ensure there are no side effects between the medication.
Essential Oils That Repel Fleas
I’m a little bit of a hippie, so I have a lot of essential oils in my home. I use them for a range of things from moisturizers to antiseptics to natural insect repellent for myself. I’ve also used them to keep mosquitoes away from birds that live with me. The most important thing to remember when treating any pet with essential oils is to test them first!
Some oils are powerful and can cause skin reactions. Don’t slather your dog with any neat oils (undiluted) and don’t apply the oils all over your pet without testing a small area first. You also want to be absolutely sure your dog can tolerate the smell of the oils. Their sense of smell is much stronger than ours.
You can apply some oils to clothing your dog wears or even the lead to help keep bugs away.
Don’t use: Penny royal, peppermint, clove, or tea tree oil on your dog. These are all powerful insect fighters, but they aren’t recommended by practitioners for canine exposure.
Lemongrass, cedarwood, citronella, thyme, and lavender are safer. You can make a medicated bath for your dog by adding a drop or two of the oils to your regular dog shampoo. You can also dip a brush in water infused with a drop or two of oils and brush your dog. Placing a few drops of oils on a bandanna around your dog’s neck can help keep nasties at bay on hikes and when outside.
The Risks Associated With Heartworm
Risks of heartworm in dogs are pretty serious. Mosquitoes transmit the disease from dog to dog as they flit around looking for a new canine to bite. Other mammals like foxes and ferrets can also carry the disease.
Horrifically, the larvae then grow inside the dog in the heart and lungs. They are called microfilariae, or nematode larvae. Since these invasive pests don’t belong there, they can weaken a dog’s heart, lungs, kidneys, and other body systems over time.
The Best Heartworm Prevention
Many of the topical flea medications also fight mosquitoes so they’ll help prevent heartworm. Your vet will probably prescribe or recommend additional heartworm prevention for your dog which may be something like Heartguard, Sentinel, or Interceptor. These are chew-able medications that act as anti-parasitics to protect your dog.
It is also important that your dog is insured to cover the cost of heartworm treatment.
Heartworm Medicine For Dogs
You have to buy most heartworm medication for dogs with a prescription because it is medication. Your vet can provide it to you or you can use a mail order service like 1800 Pet Meds. Heartguard, for instance, also treats roundworm and hookworms. Most of the other available heartworm medication for dogs does also because it contains ivermectin.
Ivermectin paralyzes and kills parasites and is actually used in humans as well. You can steer clear of your dog’s beef flavored Heartguard, though.
Ticks are another big concern for dog owners. Not only are ticks absolutely gross (they freak me out, seriously), they carry lyme disease. They’re difficult to spot and even harder to get off your dog. The best thing to do is prevent them.
Luckily, most of the flea prevention medications also guard against ticks. You should also check your dog very well after walks in the woods and time spent in the yard. Use your hands to feel all over your dog’s body. You’re looking for lumps and bumps that may look more like a skin tag or a mole than an insect.
Trigger warning: I’m going to include a photograph of a tick below. Brace yourself.
Ticks burrow into your dog’s skin and feed on their blood. As they feed, they get larger in a completely revolting display of food hoarding.
While ticks live basically everywhere, they favor warm climates or at least warm months of the year. Spring and summer are prime time for ticks so stay on the lookout. They also love overgrown areas like woods and fields.
Ticks can cause several dangerous conditions in dogs including anemia, paralysis, skin conditions, infections, lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The name may be fun but the condition is not.
Dogs infected with lyme disease won’t appear sick right away. It takes time to develop symptoms of lyme disease: 2 to 5 months to be exact. Most dogs will run a fever from 103 to 105 degrees. They also experience lameness and swollen joints or lymph nodes. They may also seem tired and not want to eat. You won’t see any rash or redness around the bite site like you see in people.
Ehrlichiosis generally requires a lab test to figure out. You may see some symptoms, however, including swelling in the area of your dog’s organs and lymph nodes, fever, anemia, lethargy, disinterest in eating, trouble breathing, bruises and pain and stiffness in joints or trouble moving around.
Your dog may fight this condition on its own, but don’t bank on it. Take your dog to the vet and find out what’s wrong. Be sure to advise your vet if you’ve seen a tick on your dog recently or if you’ve been out on hikes or in tall grassy areas.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is transmitted by ticks and found primarily in America. Both dogs and humans can contract this condition much like lyme disease.
Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever include skin lesions, lack of appetite, fever, abdominal pain, head tilt, cough, and mood conditions like depression or confusion.
Tick Removal For Brave Pet Owners
I don’t remove ticks myself because I have a bug issue. I schlep my dog to the vet and let them do the work. If you want to attempt to remove the tick yourself, there are some steps recommended by PetMD.
You’ll need: gloves, tweezers, rubbing alcohol, a strong stomach, and antiseptic spray.
- Put your gloves on to keep yourself safe.
- Settle your pet down and get him nice and calm. Try not to act disgusted and nervous because he’ll pick up on it. Having a buddy for this task can help reassure you and the dog simultaneously.
- Use the tweezers to grab the tick firmly, as close as you can get to your dog’s skin without hurting him.
- Pull steadily and straight without twisting or turning because that can risk breaking off the tick’s mouth parts. I’m sorry I had to even say ‘mouth parts’ to you like that. *shiver*
- Now you have to examine the tick to make sure those revolting mouth parts are there and not still in your dog. If you don’t think you got all of the tick, be sure to tell your vet this when you arrive. I highly recommend that you take your dog into the vet even if you remove the tick just to be safe.
- Now you get to kill the tick, the best part of this job if you ask me. Resist the urge to smash it over and over while you yell in triumph. Drop it into some alcohol and save it in case the vet wants it.
- Use your antiseptic spray to swab the place on your dog where the tick was.
- Give your dog a treat and have a drink or something. You deserve it.
Now you can come to my house to do this next time we have an issue. I really, really hate bugs.
Using Preventative Methods To Keep Your Dog Healthy
No offense, but I hope you are slightly terrified by some of the things in this article because we’re talking about serious health risks to your dog that you can prevent. It is extremely important that you stay up to date on heartworm medication and treatments to prevent fleas and parasites from calling your dog home.
Your first line of defense is your vet. They will tell you what treatments they recommend and you can purchase medications from them or online. Even medications that require prescriptions can often be purchased online for a lower cost, so do shop around unless you value the convenience of just letting your vet take care of things.
Even if your dog is protected, always check for ticks after time spent in parks, the woods, or grassy fields. Even your own backyard can house ticks just waiting to jump on your dog. It’s a little scary, but it’s preventable.
Use this article as a reference if you fear your dog has come into contact with ticks, has fleas, or your new puppy needs preventative treatment. Follow the links I’ve included here to purchase supplies and do extra reading about the parasites and conditions covered here.
It isn’t light reading, but it’s important to your dog’s health. If you follow all of your vet’s advice, you’ll have a happy, healthy dog for years to come.