What a bane

Sunny skies mean more outdoor fun for Fido. However, it also means exposing your furkid to nasty bugs. Here are the most insidious creepy crawlies.
By Christiann Priyanka
Published on Thursday, 14 June 2018

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:

Fleas
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 small breed 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
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 vet-prescribed 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.

For more creepy crawlies, turn to Body and Soul (pg 58) of our June/July 2018 issue!