Parasite prevention is a must for pet owners

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Spring is in full swing. Unfortunately, the warmer weather doesn’t just help the population of lambs and birds, but parasites too.

Ectoparasites (fleas, mites, lice and ticks) can at best be a mild irritant, and at worse cause serious disease.

The most common is fleas. Everyone has heard of treatment, but few follow a good preventative protocol. The most common sign is scratching, usually around the back end, flanks and hind limbs, progressing to inflamed skin which may become infected, especially if your pet has a flea allergy. Fleas can also carry a tapeworm.

They breed rapidly – the life cycle is three weeks from egg to an egg-laying adult, which can lay thousands a day. An easy way to check for fleas is with a very fine comb, looking for a black grit-like substance in the coat; when placed onto damp kitchen paper this will leave a reddish brown streak. This is flea dirt.

Treatment of all animals in the house is required – cats, dogs and rabbits, and the house itself as 95 per cent of the flea life cycle is in the environment.

If your pet is itchy, but there is no sign of fleas it could be a mite, commonly known as mange. There are two main types: surface and burrowing. They cannot be seen with the naked eye and the best way to diagnose is to examine scrapings from the skin.

A good, regular parasite protection regime is essential.

They can cause intense itchiness, crusting of the skin and infections. They can be very difficult to get rid of, with one type needing strong medicated baths at the vets. Some mites do bite people.

Ticks are the other main parasite. They may not cause much irritation and can pass unnoticed until they swell. Ticks can carry quite serious diseases, notably Lyme’s Disease and Bartonella (cat scratch disease).

Currently, they are reasonably rare, but as the climate warms they are becoming more common. A tick should be removed carefully, ensuring the head and mouthparts are removed also. Do not just pull with tweezers, either bring your pet to the vet or buy a special tick remover. There may be a small lump around the site of the bite, which usually settles, but can develop a nasty infection.

A good, regular parasite protection regime is essential. There are a number available, but buy a suitable product from your vet. There are two main formulations: spot on solution or a tablet. There is also an injectable flea prevention for cats. Ask your vet for the best products to suit your pets.

By AMY CHAPMAN, Vet