I’m not sure Benjamin Franklin was thinking about our furry domestic friends when he said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” but maybe he should have been. I feel fortunate to live in a city where there is ample opportunity to play outdoors with our beloved pets. From hiking to paddle boarding, fun outdoor activities can also pose risks for our pets that can often be prevented. Preventable dog and cat diseases seen in Central Texas stem from parasitic, bacterial, viral, and even environmental elements.
Heartworm disease, a potentially life-threatening condition for dogs and cats, is transmitted by an infected mosquito. If you have lived in Austin more than one minute, you know the Congress Avenue bats have not decimated our mosquito population. Fortunately, heartworm disease is easily prevented with a monthly oral or topical prescription medication. Keep in mind, indoor cats and dogs can also get heartworms since it takes just one pesky infected mosquito bite to spread heartworm disease.
Other bothersome bugs, such as fleas and ticks, also facilitate disease transmission in the Austin area. Historically, fleas and ticks were just part of pet ownership, but fortunately prescription and some over-the-counter flea and tick preventions have come a long way. Not only do fleas and ticks make our pets’ skin miserable, they also can carry diseases that are transmitted through their blood-sucking bite. I feel confident I can keep my patients flea- and tick-free with the proper topical and/or oral monthly preventions. When it comes to blood-sucking parasites like mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks, monthly prevention is the key. In Austin, these preventative measures should be given monthly and year-round.
Another preventable and potentially life-threatening disease in our area is leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a bacterium that is passed from infected wildlife (such as raccoons, skunks, squirrels, opossums, or deer) through their urine and into our yards, swimming holes, and along daily walking routes. A vaccine given annually can help protect dogs against the common strains of this zoonotic (meaning people can get it, too) disease. Although not as commonly diagnosed as some other diseases, this is one you don’t want to encounter. Leptospirosis can be life-threatening or could cost you lots of money to successfully treat—this is another disease you’d be better off preventing.
Intestinal parasites are certainly prevalent in the outdoor environment. Your pets’ monthly heartworm prevention is also formulated to protect against many of the common intestinal parasites, such as hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms. However, other parasites such as giardia are also present in our area and require additional prescription medications to treat when present. Routine fecal screenings by your veterinarian will help ensure your pets are parasite free.
The best vaccine protocol is one based on your pets’ lifestyle, age, health, and environmental exposure. This should be a customized protocol designed with your veterinarian. Routine wellness visits should address all of the above concerns. A trip to the vet isn’t just for sick animals; annual vet checkups are an important part of a proper wellness plan. That “ounce of prevention” is critical as we are our pets’ best advocates.