Pests That Affect Pets
There’s nearly one pet in a household for every human living in the United States. According to a 2017-2018 survey, there are more than 180 million dogs and cats living in homes around the country. On top of that, there are tens of millions of other pets like birds, horses, rodents, and rabbits that are a part of families’ lives. This is all to say that there are a lot of pets at risk of developing issues at the hands of the billions of pests that exist in nature. These pets then need to visit the veterinarian and get treated before the most severe effects—like comas and death—onset.
But how much do you know about the various pests that can harm your beloved animals? Let’s take a look at the various types of insects, parasites, and annoyances for our pets and how we can best treat them and prevent the infestations from even happening in the first place.
the most common types of pets
- Dogs: Dogs are in the highest percentage of households of any pets. While they are outnumbered by cats in the overall picture, more than 36 percent of households have at least one dog in it, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Some of the most common breeds of dogs include retrievers, German shepherds, bulldogs, and beagles. Our beloved pooches most frequently go to the veterinarian due to skin allergies and infections, ear infections, and intestinal issues like diarrhea and vomiting—all of which can be caused by pests.
- Cats: While dogs are in a higher percentage of households, cats outnumber dogs in terms of total pets in the United States (74 million to 69 million), meaning there more cats per household than dogs. Cats go to the vet most frequently because of pests for similar reasons as dogs, such as upset stomachs, bladder diseases, and skin allergies. The most common type of cats include Maine Coons, ragamuffins, persian cats, and ragdolls.
- Birds: More than eight million birds are owned in more than 3.5 million homes in the U.S., according to the AVMA. There are many reasons why a bird might not be feeling well and needs to go to vet or an avian specialist. There are certain signals that your bird may be ill, including vomiting, becoming less social, losing feathers, and an increased frequency in puffing up its feathers. Various types of bacteria and insects can affect bird species like cockatiels, parrots, finches, and conures, all of which are the most common types of birds kept as pets.
- Horses: Despite their large size and the high cost of maintenance and storage, horses are one of the more common pets, especially when it comes to getting infected by pests and treated at the vet. They are most typically infected by flies and mosquitoes, which carry a host of diseases that can be fatal to horses. In addition to being fatal, these pests can be of great irritance to horses, causing them to stomp their hooves, flail their tails, and try to itch themselves, among other bothersome actions.
A majority of households in the United States have a pet. As of 2017, nearly 70 percent of households said they owned some sort of pet, which could include more routine animals like dogs and cats, and less common pets like rodents and snakes.
what type of pests can hurt your pets
There are endless ways your pet can become sick. Outside of dietary and lifestyle issues causing health problems like diabetes and cancers, your pets are consistently at risk of contracting illnesses from the outside world via pests that carry viruses, bacteria, parasites, and deadly diseases. Let’s take a look at some of the pests—and the viruses they can carry—that can cause harm to your pet, and also how we can prevent these pests from harming out pets.
Fleas are one of the most common pests that harm pets. Two particular species of flea—the dog flea and cat flea—feast on almost any domesticated mammal on Earth. Despite their names, they don’t only affect their namesakes (cat fleas found on dogs, and vice versa). It’s rare for a horse to be infected with fleas, but other pets like rabbits and birds can become infested.
Fleas spread from animal to animal with relative ease by jumping from its previous host to a new one. (They don’t fly.) Your pet can come into contact with fleas by either being within a short distance of another animal with fleas, or by simply encountering them in the environment. Fleas prefer cool to warm temperatures (65-80 degrees) with relatively high humidity, which makes them a perfect candidate to thrive inside a home once they infect a host and live up to 18 months.
Once they do find a host, they can lay thousands of eggs at a time. They also may not stay on a host very long, as they can hop for almost 300 yards straight without stopping. Fleas primarily feast on blood—a lot of it, too. Once attached to your pet, fleas can cause:
• Anemia (thinning of the blood)
• Scabbing, either due to the flew having marks or your pet picking at the itchy spots
• Skin infections, due to allergic reactions
While fleas are tiny, they aren’t entirely difficult to spot. If the infection is really bad, you may see fleas jumping off your dog once you look closely. Search under your pet’s fur or hair and look for any black specs, which should turn a lighter color once you pull them off your pet and place them on a bright, blank surface. You can also buy a flea comb and run it over your pet’s fur and see if the comb’s extremely thin teeth pull out any fleas.
In order to treat fleas, you should contact your veterinarian to confirm how severe the flea infestation is and which treatment is best for your pet. There are various treatment plans, and they include:
- Medication: Your vet may prescribe pills for your pet that typically start to work within the hour of taking them, depending on your pet’s size. If your pet doesn’t do well with pills, there are other treatments that work with varying effectiveness.
- Shampoos: Does your pet not mind taking a bath? Various flea shampoos may be your best friend in this case. Once wet, lather on the shampoo and let it sit for at least 10 minutes so it can suffocate the fleas and kill the eggs. Rinse off the shampoo with warm water.
- Chemical topical treatments: Other treatment options include sprays, powders, and other topical ointments that attack a specific area on your pet. It’s likely that fleas aren’t just in one area, though, so you should inspect every end of your pet for fleas and treat the area.
If one pet has fleas, you should also inspect your other pets and treat them accordingly.
Like fleas, ticks feed on blood, but they are far more harmful to your pet because they can carry bacteria and diseases from animal to animal. They can’t fly or jump to their host, so it’s tough for multiple ticks to be present on one animal at a time. When they’re in the adult stage, they’re about a quarter of an inch long, have eight legs, and can live on a host’s blood for up to a year.
Some diseases your pet may contract from a tick include:
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever: Once infected by the Rocky Mountain spotted tick, your pet can become depressed, have seizures, a loss of appetite, muscle and joint pain, and other severe symptoms. It can also cause kidney failure and hemorrhages. Dogs are infected more often than cats, and other animals like birds, horses, and rodents have been found to contract the disease from ticks.
- Canine hepatozoonosis: A disease found in dogs (thus its name) after being infected by a tick, this disease can lead to a fever, diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, and kidney failure. It’s most commonly found in the South and Southeast. It’s a treatable infection, with anti-inflammatory medication being prescribed as well as treatment for the ticks themselves.
- Tick paralysis: This disease is caused by a toxin in tick saliva that gets transmitted into your pet when the tick is feeding on its blood. Because of this, dozens of species of tick can cause paralysis. The symptoms begin to show through numbness in the legs, muscle pain, and breathing problems. More than 10 percent of untreated cases have resulted in death. Your pet won’t feel the symptoms of the infection until around a week after being bitten, so even if you find a tick on your pet and pull it off, he or she still may be at risk for disease.
- Piroplasmosis: A disease that infects millions of horses around the world, it can cause horses to become lethargic and anorexic, have reduced performance, induce a fever, and other potentially fatal symptoms.
- Lyme disease: This disease is one of the most common diseases transmitted by ticks. Despite this, the rates at which symptoms show in pets like dogs, cats, horses, and birds is relatively low. If infected with Lyme disease, though, your pet may develop a high fever, stiffness or paralysis of the muscles, a loss of appetite, and depression.
Treatment for tick bites and infections will vary with whatever disease the tick brings with it, but the first step is removing the ticks that are introducing the bacteria and toxins into your pet’s body. In order to do this, follow these simple steps:
1. Identify where the tick(s) is/are.
2. Put on gloves and use tweezers to pull the tick off your pet’s skin, pulling straight out.
3. Kill the tick.
4. Disinfect the area where the tick was feeding.
5. Watch out for any symptoms that may arise in the following days.
If symptoms begin to show, consult your veterinarian so they can prescribe the right treatment. These treatments can include a range of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, and steroids to help clear out the disease and strengthen your pet.
FLIES AND BEES
Flies and bees affecting pets is typically reserved for animals that live most of their life outdoors, like horses and, in some households, dogs. Because many cats, pet birds, and exotic animals live a majority of their lives inside, they are far less likely to contract a fly bite.
Some flies that are particularly dangerous to horses and outdoor pets include:
• Horse fly
• Stable fly
• House fly
• Horn fly
Because of the relative ease at which flies spread diseases, those at risk of being bitten are also at a high risk of contracting diseases. Some of these diseases and their symptoms include:
- West Nile virus: This disease is transmitted through mosquitoes and affects animals’ brains and nervous systems. The strains of the virus that affect horses can’t infect humans, and vice versa. The most common symptoms of the West Nile virus are diminished coordination, particularly in the hind legs. The virus can affect a horse’s ability to function, causing severe weight loss, comas, or even death. There is a vaccine for West Nile virus, and you should contact your vet immediately if you are suspicious that your horse has the disease.
- Influenza: There are strains of the the influenza A virus that can infected almost any animal on Earth, including horses. Just like in humans, the flu can develop into pneumonia if left untreated. Your pet will experience a fever, cough, loss of appetite, depression, and other flu-like symptoms seen in humans. If your horse contracts the flu, rest and anti-inflammatory medication is encouraged.
- Anemia: Insects that suck blood, like mosquitoes and house flies, are threats to introducing equine infectious anemia virus to horses. It isn’t contagious, and it can only be transmitted through blood. The disease causes horses to become fatigued, lose weight rapidly, have a fever, and potentially become depressed. If your horse is confirmed with EIA, it must be reported to proper officials. Treatment for the disease is minimal, as the symptoms are addressed rather than the disease itself, for which there is no cure.
- Equine encephalitis: There are three forms of this disease—eastern (EEE), western (WEE), and Venezuelan (VEE). Though rare, EEE is one of the most deadly infections for horses, with mortality rates ranging from 75 percent to 100 percent. VEE and WEE are the most common strains found in the United States. Symptoms for the infection (both forms) include fever, chills, headaches, seizures, and even a coma. Both forms of the disease can be transmitted to humans and other animals, too, through mosquitoes. There is no cure for equine encephalitis, so the symptoms for the diseases are treated rather than the infection itself.
While flies like bot flies and black flies don’t transmit diseases to horses, they can still be very annoying to the species. Certain flies lay eggs on the horses, then the eggs enter their intestinal tracts after being licked and prosper from the inside. Once alive outside of the horse, they feed on dead skin, mucus in their eyes, and abrasions on the skin. Their presence can cause itching, swelling, and a general annoyance.
It’s pretty difficult to control the fly population outside, so completely ridding your stable or yard of flies isn’t entirely realistic. Once infected with a disease, though, you should contact your veterinarian to find out the next steps. Some treatments may include simply cleaning the infected area and waiting for symptoms to subside, while other diseases may require much more immediate and intrusive care.
Mites are tiny arachnids—like ticks—that make their home on animals like dogs, cats, and horses. In fact, almost every dog has some population of mites living on him or her that were passed down from its mother, but once they multiply, they can do some damage. They attach to your pet’s skin, and in large quantities, they can cause serious skin infections. Though not quite as serious as the virus-spreading habits of other pests, these skin infections—known as mange—can be of great annoyance to pets and cause hair loss, itching, scabbing (from the itching), and bald spots. They do most of their damage in the summertime.
Pets typically get mites by coming in contact with another animal with them. This may be the pet’s parents in some cases, and may just be random animals around town in other cases. There are two types of mange that mites can transfer to pets:
- Demodectic mange: The more serious form of mange, this type of skin infection can spread over your pet’s entire body through a bacterial infection transmitted by the mites. How badly the bacteria takes effect depends on your pet’s immune system.
- Sarcoptic mange: With this type of mange, the affected area is usually more localized, because it’s caused by mites digging through your pet’s skin in a certain area. The presence of mites makes dogs very irritated and itchy, causing them to bite and scratch at the area, which then leads to scabbing and the loss of hair.
Similar to fleas, mites can be treated with myriad shampoos, chemical treatments, and oral medications. How long it takes for the mites to go away depends on how the infestation’s severity and location. In some pets, it may take months of expensive topical treatments to get rid of mites, so it’s important you contact your vet immediately when you first notice your dog scratching at or balding in a certain area.
Worms are parasites that can live in major organs in your pet’s body and feed off blood and vital nutrients from the inside. These parasites primarily live inside the heart, intestines, or skin. The most common types of worms that affect pets include:
While each worm affects a different part of the body, they generally cause similar symptoms in your pet. However, if left untreated, they can cause serious diseases in the infected area and, ultimately, death.
Some pets are more affected by worms than others. For instance, dogs can live most of their adult lives with worms inside of them, causing illnesses like heart disease down the road. In fact, hundreds of worms can develop in dogs throughout their lives. Worms in cats, on the other hand, typically don’t make it to adulthood, making the long-lasting effects of worms less severe in cats.
Worms are most often passed from one host to the other through feeding—like a mother feeding its baby. The eggs can transfer from the host to the newborn, then they hatch and grow inside the new pet.
Common symptoms of worms include:
• Weight loss
• Poor appearance
• Heart issues
Unfortunately, some infestations may never cause any symptoms to show until they’ve done all their damage.
How your pet’s worms are treated depends on what type of worm the animal has. There are over-the-counter medications that can help get rid of worms, but you should contact your vet to understand the best method of treatment. Most worms show up in the stool, so keep a small sample for the vet so they can test the severity and type of worm that may be living in your pet.
how often and when should I take my my pet to the vet?
If your pet has a pressing medical need—severe enough to where you’d need to call 911 if he or she was a human—take him or her to the veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital. In addition, common symptoms that cause pets to go to the vet include:
• Bad breath
• Ear infections
• Loss in appetite
• Weight loss
• Skin infections
While many of these issues can be caused by pests, some can be caused by general aging or lifestyle.
Healthy or not, your pet should visit the vet at least once a year. When you first get your pet, take him or her to the vet for a wellness check in addition to a baseline for size and weight to ensure everything is going smoothly there as well. If you have a newborn pet, you may need to visit the vet relatively frequently (once a month for a couple months) to get all the necessary shots and vaccinations to help prevent many of the aforementioned pests. When researching vets in your area, make sure that doctor has experience dealing with your type of pet, particularly the more exotic animals (rodents, reptiles, etc.).
how to protect your pets from pests
Pests can reach your pet in a number of ways. In some cases, it’s inevitable for your pet to come in contact with pests, like those who spend their lives outside or happen to reside in warmer, humid environments within the Southeast. They also may have pests passed on from their parents—well before you have a chance to intervene—and the illnesses are a problem you inherit.
There are preventative steps you can take to make sure you have your pet in the best position to live a healthy, infection-free life. These include:
- Vaccines: There are many vaccines available for various animals that live in different areas of the country. In general, thesevaccines help prevent basic diseases like influenza and more severe cases like the West Nile virus and hepatitis. Your pet should get vaccinated every few years, depending on its size and where you live. Your pet may have adverse allergic reactions to the vaccines, which should be treated by your vet, as well.
- Keep a clean yard: Keeping a short-cut lawn and yard with as little shrubbery and densely packed dead vegetation as possible helps give pests as little breeding space as possible. During many of the egg and larva stages of these pests, they need to be in warm, dark places to thrive and grow. Keeping a clean yard can help cut down on places these pests can thrive.
- Clean your pet often: Pests like flies are particularly drawn to dirty things, like dirt, garbage, and pet waste. After playing outside a lot, or living in a cage near where it uses the bathroom, your pet can become ridden with dirt and speckles of feces and urine from surrounding environments. To help combat this, you should clean your pet once a month, including his or her teeth and ears.
- Clean your home: Similar to a cluttered yard, having lots of dirt and cluttered space in your home can provide a breeding ground for fleas, mites, flies, and mosquitoes. When cleaning floors, counters, and drains, make sure to reach every build up of dirt possible. If it’s there, pests will find it!
- Keep up with medications: If your pet has allergies or medical issues, make sure you’re giving your pet the proper medications to make sure his or her immune system is as strong as possible to combat issues caused by aforementioned pests. Also, when treating illnesses and issues caused by pests, missing one round of medication can offset all the work done by previous dosages.
- Consistently check your pet: A proactive step in making sure your pet doesn’t suffer serious damage from pests like ticks and fleas is constantly checking for them. Have a tick brush and other combs with thin teeth on hand to comb through your pet’s hair or fur and look out for small brown or black specs, which could be a pest or dirt. In either case, you should clean your pet if you come in contact with a lot of these small specs.
Again, if you notice anything wrong with your pet, don’t wait on a trip to the veterinarian. If your pet has never been to the vet before, do diligent research to find the right vet in your area to fit his or her needs.