Fleas, heartworms, and other parasites can cause serious illness in your beloved cats and dogs. Fortunately, there are ways to help prevent them from invading your pets and your home.

Fleas not only infest your pet and your home, but they can cause extreme allergic reactions that require costly and extensive treatment for your beloved pet. Heartworm disease can be difficult to treat, and can be fatal if not diagnosed early enough. Fortunately, there are effective ways to protect your pets from these nasty freeloaders.

1. Arm Yourself Against Heartworm Disease

This potentially fatal illness affects both cats and dogs and, according to the American Heartworm Society (AHS), roughly one million dogs are diagnosed with it every year despite its being nearly 100 percent preventable.

  • Understand the risks. Heartworm disease is caused by parasitic worms, which live in the major blood vessels of the lungs and sometimes even the heart, hence the name and severity of the disease. These worms can cause a number of problems that affect the heart, lungs, liver or kidney, any of which can prove fatal. Heartworm disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito and cases have been reported in all 50 states. According to the AHS, 25 percent of cats diagnosed with heartworm disease are indoor cats.
  • Know the treatment options. In dogs, if caught early enough, heartworm disease can be treated without permanent damage to the lungs, heart, or blood vessels. In the advanced stages, treatment can be very costly and the risks of complication increase dramatically. Hospitalization may be required. There are no approved products for heartworm treatment in cats. Talk with your vet about how to monitor the signs of this disease. Antibiotics, steroids, or other medications may be recommended to manage heartworm disease in cats.
  • Prevent, prevent, prevent. There are a number of safe, effective heartworm preventive medications available. Talk to your vet about which ones are right for your dog or cat.

2. Eradicate Flea Problems

While many people think of fleas as simply a huge annoyance (which they certainly are), these tiny bloodsuckers can pose serious health risks, particularly to young or allergic pets so constant vigilance is your best weapon.

  • Understand the risks. While it’s true that in mild cases, your dog or cat may only be troubled with persistent itching and scratching, that’s certainly not the extent of a major infestation. For starters, these itchy bugs can take up residence in your home, which can be highly unpleasant for humans. If your dog or cat happens to have flea allergies, he may scratch excessively, resulting in skin damage, hair loss, and scabs. Fleas can transmit tapeworms to both pets and people. In cases where fleas have severely infested a young puppy or a cat, the feeding fleas may actually remove so much blood they cause life-threatening anemia.
  • Know your treatment options. As many of us have learned the hard way, flea infestations can be very hard to completely eradicate. This is primarily a factor of the flea’s complex lifecycle, which includes eggs, larvae, pupae, and adult stages. For each adult flea your see on your pet, there are likely hundreds more (on the pet or in the environment) at different stages in their lifecycle, which is why it may take months to fully rid your pet’s environment of these bloodsuckers. To effectively conquer an infestation, all pets must be treated, even if they show no signs of infestation. Some flea treatments target adults, while others also attack eggs, larvae, or pupae. Many flea products are formulated for dogs or cats only, so talk with your vet about which treatment to apply to your pet.
  • Prevent, prevent, prevent. As you may have guessed, it’s far easier to prevent fleas than to treat an infestation. Your vet can recommend a number of safe and effective options, some of which can be administered orally, or topically (called “spot-on” medications) each month. Simple tasks like laundering your pet’s bedding regularly and vacuuming often can help with both treatment and prevention.