BODY AND SOUL
Sunny skies mean more outdoor fun for Fido. However, it also means exposing your furkid to nasty bugs. Here are the most insidious creepycrawlies.
If something’s bugging your furkid, it’s probably one of these nasty critters.
most bugs are a bane for both paw-rents and furkids. While some are harmless, there are a number that can cause serious damage to Fido’s or Puss’ health. Some of these bugs carry deadly diseases or parasites; others can be incredibly difficult to eliminate. Here are the bugs you should look out for:
The flea is a wingless insect that feeds on the blood of the host animal. They have powerful hind legs that propel them forward and onto the bodies of unsuspecting animals. Fleas thrive in warm, damp climates, which makes Singapore a ripe breeding ground for them to flourish.
There are over 2,000 species of fleas, but the cat flea is the most common in Singapore. “Cat fleas bite every living thing, humans included,” says Dr Simon Quek, a veterinarian with Hillside Veterinary Surgery. Fleas are highly transmittable and can cause flea allergy dermatitis in both dogs and cats. Flea allergy dermatitis is characterised by itching, rashes and secondary symmetrical hair loss. Even a few flea bites can set off an intense reaction. Fleas can also spread a blood-borne parasite in cats called mycoplasma, causing a low red blood cell count in cats which can be fatal if untreated. “Affected cats may display non-specific signs such as lethargy, pale gums, lack of appetite and/or increased respiratory rate,” says Dr Brian Loon from Amber Vet.
Flea bites cause intense itching, especially in the back and the base of the tail of the animal. It is transmitted through contact with other pets infested with them. Symptoms: Scratching, skin irritation, anaemia (especially in young and smallbreed pets) and hypersensitivity reaction (severe allergic reaction to flea saliva where the pet gets extremely itchy). Treatments: There are many flea treatment options on the market—from oral to topical treatments, and even preventive collars. Dr Quek recommends oral flea prevention medication. Other treatments include anti-itch or -inflammatory oral medication along with specific shampoos and creams formulated to combat fleas. Putting your pet on long-term preventives
will not harm him. Getting your home thoroughly cleaned by pest control will prevent recurring infestations.
Ticks are parasitic arthropods that feed on the blood of their hosts—much like fleas do. Ticks use blades of grass or vegetation to get high enough in order to get on the host animal and hide in tall grass or plants in wooded areas. Once on, a tick will latch its mouth into the skin and won’t detach until it’s had its fill. They are attracted to warmth and motion and attach to areas with little to no hair, typically in and around ears, insides of legs where it meets the body, between toes and inside skin folds.
There are over 850 species of ticks and can be hard- or soft-bodied. The hard-bodied ticks are the species that often plague pets. In Singapore, the most common species of tick is the brown dog tick. Ticks can cause anaemia (especially in young and old pets), and can spread a plethora of dangerous, life-threatening illnesses such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tick fever— the latter is most common here. There are two strains of tick fever—Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis—and the brown dog tick is a carrier of both. Ehrlichia is a bacterium, while Babesia is a parasite. “These pathogens usually cause a low white and red blood cell and platelet count, resulting in fever (manifests as lethargy and lack of appetite), anaemia, bleeding and spontaneous bruising,” says Dr Loon. Tick fever is potentially fatal but if discovered early, the pet can be treated.
Symptoms: Mild to high fever, scabs from biting/licking skin, excessive shaking of head (check ears), irritated bumps on skin, loss of appetite, and swollen lymph nodes. Treatments: Consistent use of vetprescribed spot-on or oral tick preventives will minimise the risk of tick fever. “Oral tick control products are more effective and kill ticks faster than topical ones,” advises Dr Quek. He also adds that newer oral tick medications are very safe compared to old topical washes or even spot-ons that may have more side effects. Calling in pest control to remove ticks from your environment is key to preventing a recurring infestation.
There are four types of mites that affect dogs: sarcoptes scabiei (burrowing mites), demodex canis (demodex mites), cheyletiella yasguri (surface mites) and otodectes cynotis (ear mites). The general term for mite infestations is mange. In Singapore, sarcoptic mange, demodectic mange and ear mites are the most common mite infestations seen in pets.
“All are contagious between infected animals except demodex, but none are lifethreating,” says Dr Loon.
Also known as canine scabies, sarcoptic mites are caused by a mite called sarcoptes scabiei. The female mite tunnels into the dog’s skin while laying eggs before she dies. This process causes inflammation as a response to the burrowing and laying of eggs. These mites are highly contagious and can infest other animals, and even people.
Sarcoptic mites prefer hairless areas of skin, so the first place you’ll notice problems would be at the elbows, armpits, ears, chest, belly and/or groin of your furkid. If not treated, they can spread to the entire body.
Symptoms: Intense scratching leading to hair loss, skin rashes, crust formation on the infected area and alopecia (hair loss).
Often referred to as ‘demodex’ or ‘red mange’, demodectic mites are the most common form of mange in dogs. This parasite lives deep within the hair follicles of the host animal. The mites are passed from mother to young when nursing. Most of the time, these parasites do not cause any harm to the dog. However, since this mite is passed on during nursing, even healthy pups may get mites.
Contracting demodectic mange is usually the result of an underdeveloped immune system. Demodectic mange is not contagious. Therefore, people and other
animals cannot catch it.
Symptoms: Lesions occurring in patches across the face, hair loss, redness and scaly skin.
Ear mites are one of the most common causes of ear infections in pets. In fact, several species of mites can live in the ear canal at once—the most common being otodectes cynotis in dogs, which causes intense itching. These mites can be carried by cats, hamsters, gerbils, ferrets, mice, and even rabbits. They are highly contagious and will pass from one pet to another through contact. These critters prefer to live in warm, dark and moist environments.
Severe infections can lead to damage in the ear canal and drum, and may even cause deafness. They are most commonly contracted from the external environment or in areas of poor hygiene. Breeds with ears that flop are more prone to ear mite infestations because their ear flaps trap moisture in the ear canals, unlike those with perked ears which are drier. Symptoms: Itching, soreness in ear because of rubbing it against the floor, shaking head excessively, dark brown or black ear wax and/or more ear wax in the ear than normal.
Treatments for mites: Mite infections can be tricky because itchiness caused by mites share similar symptoms to nonmite causes of skin and ear diseases. “A veterinary examination with samples of the skin/ear wax obtained for microscopic examination of mites is essential for diagnosis,” says Dr Loon. There are various treatments for mites, including topical or oral treatments. Vets will recommend the most suitable treatment for the pet depending on the severity of the infection. With new parasitic drugs available, it is easier to treat mites these days, says Dr Quek.
Mosquitoes are dangerous to dogs and cats because they can spread heartworm—a parasitic worm that lives in the blood vessels and heart of affected animals after being bitten by infected mosquitoes. These worms may grow for several years in the heart before showing any symptoms. Untreated heartworm in pets can be fatal.
Dogs are natural hosts for heartworms, which means that they will mature into adults, mate and reproduce within the blood vessels and heart of canines and can carry hundreds of heartworms in their bodies at one time. Cats, on the other hand, are atypical hosts for heartworms. “They tend to carry much lower worm loads and, thus, screening tests are not as accurate. Diagnosis is also challenging due to the generic nature of the clinical signs,” says Dr Loon.
Symptoms: Exercise intolerance, shortness of breath, lethargy and weight loss. They may also show signs of heart disease. Treatments: Treatment is complex and involves a series of drugs, including antibiotics, steroids, and worm-killing injections. “Due to the potentially life-threatening and silent nature of heartworm disease, along with potential severe complications involved with treatment, prevention is recommended for all dogs in Singapore,” advises Dr Loon. Prevention involves getting a monthly spot-on, oral preventive at veterinary labelled doses or a yearly injection of a slow-release preventive. While preventives are effective, a yearly heartworm screening test is recommended.