Cats and dogs that spend time outdoors, especially in or near parks and wildlife areas, have a higher risk of exposure to parasites and infectious diseases.
Outdoor cats: While the life of an outdoor cat can hold adventure and freedom, these cats are also exposed to increased risk. Danger from such things as injuries from fighting or falling, being hit by a car, toxins, and exposure to parasites and infectious diseases are a concern. If you are not able to keep your cat indoors, there are preventive care measures to reduce risk of disease and harmful organisms. Having your outdoor feline friend vaccinated is just the beginning to preventive care. Ask your veterinarian about proper vaccination protocols for core vaccines including those for rabies, panleukopenia, herpes virus & calicivirus. Feline Leukemia virus and Feline Immune Deficiency virus may also be recommended (some screening/testing may be required prior).
Dogs…on-leash and off: As above, infectious diseases are also harmful to your dog. Ask your veterinarian about proper vaccine protocols for core vaccines including those for rabies, distemper, parvovirus, and adenovirus. The vaccine for the prevention of bordetella (kennel cough) and parainfluenza is also important if your dog is in contact with other dogs at the park, while on walks, or by going to a kennel/groomer.
Parasite prevention for your outdoor pet: There is increased exposure when your dog or outdoor cat is allowed to roam off leash in parks and in wildlife areas. Whether on-leash or off, dogs and cats can be exposed through contaminated soil and grass from fecal matter. The roundworm parasite, B procyonis is commonly found in raccoons and can potentially cause zoonotic infection in humans. Infected raccoons can shed millions of eggs per day in their feces. Raccoons also tend to defecate in specific areas, or raccoon latrines, so dogs and cats should be kept away to minimize the likelihood of ingestion or contamination to their skin/coat. Prevention is key. During your pet’s routine exam, a fecal sample is important to have evaluated. Ask about de-worming medication and hygienic measures (routine bathing, handling of feces, and washing your own hands). If you suspect that your dog or cat has been exposed, talk to your veterinarian right away.
Fleas, Ticks and Worms…oh my: Indoor or outdoor, checking for fleas, especially in southern BC, is a year round job. It just takes one adult flea to jump onto your pet or your person to generate hundreds and even thousands of eggs that will hide in your carpet, bedding, the cracks in your hardwood/laminate flooring etc. Prevention of a flea infestation is much easier than having to treat the problem once it has started. Ask your veterinarian about year round protection as there are multiple products designed for prevention and/or an infestation.
While ticks are found more in wilderness areas, they can still be found on pets that frequent any park-like area. Ticks bite and burrow their mouth parts into the skin and can stay there for days feeding on your dog or cat. They are the size of a small bean, usually grey or tan in colour. While they are attached to your pet, you may not see their legs and head, unless you can see the underside. Some websites will walk you through how to remove a tick, but it is best to see a veterinarian to have it removed as they may also send the tick to the BC Centre for Disease Control for testing of Borrelia (lyme disease), which can affect both pets and humans. The BC CDC has been monitoring Lyme disease in people since 1993, and the current risk of contracting the illness remains low. There were four positive human cases contracted within the province in 2010. The areas of risk are Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, the Fraser Valley, the Sunshine Coast, and the Kootenays.
If you need to remove the tick yourself, you can refer to the BC CDC site for further information (www.bccdc.ca/dis-cond/a-z/_l/LymeDisease/overview/Lyme+Disease.htm). Be careful not to break the head off from the body as the head can stay imbedded in your pet and cause infection. Sometimes requiring antibiotics for any localized infection.
De-worming is also important. There are many types of worms such as whipworm, hookworm, round worm, and tapeworm (found in fleas and rodents, as well as in dirt and grass). Some of these intestinal parasites can be zoonotic (transferable to humans). During your pet’s veterinary exam, discuss which de-worming product is best for you, as some also include flea/tick control. There are other intestinal parasites, such as coccidia and giardia which requiring different medications for treatment. Fecal examinations at least done yearly, or during episodes of diarrhea can help rule-out these concerns.
For outdoor or indoor pets, identification is a must. Whether your pet is found injured and taken to a local veterinary hospital, or your indoor cat escapes outside, pet ID can help reunite a lost or injured pet. Tattoos (placed while under anaesthetic) are a visible tool to start the search process and microchips (placed under the skin between the shoulder blades) are valuable as veterinary hospitals and shelters can scan the chip and call a central phone number to get registration details. Being in a veterinary hospital, we have the pleasure of seeing families reunited with their pets through these identification measures.
With many safe and reliable veterinary products in the market now, it makes sense to keep your pet as safe from disease and parasites as possible. Be cautious with over the counter pet store products as some can be dangerous to our pets. Always discuss with your veterinary team, or our team at Scottsdale Veterinary Hospital, what flea or parasite products would be safe and effective for your pet. Keeping your pet healthy also helps to protect you and your family.
BC Centre for Disease Control (www.bccdc.ca/resourcematerials/newsandalerts/news/2011News/lymerelease2011.htm)
Companion Animal Parasite Council (www.capcvet.org)