Disclosure: This post reflects a compensated editorial partnership with RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment).
The past few months have been an incredibly challenging time across the world. Many countries have been quarantined, traveling has ceased, friends and family members are getting sick or distancing themselves to try to stay healthy. Society is encouraged to avoid group settings and simple activities such as grocery shopping bring feelings of discomfort and anxiety. Those of us who are considered “high-risk” are forced to spend our days without the comfort of friends and social interactions. In conjunction with this lack of human connection, screen time continues to increase, as do reports of stress and depression among all age groups. Coronavirus stopped us all in our tracks, which is why now more than ever it is so important to take care of your mental health and physical health, starting with more fresh air.
What can you do about it?
First, you can get outside (and bring your pet along for the adventure)! Join me and @DebugtheMyths in the Great Outdoors Challenge on social media and share your outdoor summer adventures using #TheGreatOutdoorsChallenge!
In this post:
- Mental health benefits of getting outside
- Common pests we see in companion animals:
- How do I protect my pet?
- What else can I do to prevent disease?
Mental health benefits of getting outside
There are so many benefits of getting outside with your pet, whether it be your cat, dog, or even your ferret (yes – I did see a ferret on the beach in Charleston a few weekends ago). By exercising outdoors, you can strengthen the human-animal bond, help build endurance while maintaining muscle mass, and have fun! Additionally, humans are notorious for becoming vitamin D deficient. We need sunlight to help activate the vitamin D in our body! Fun side note: dog and cats don’t need sunlight to make active vitamin D. Their body does it for them!
One study suggests that spending 20 minutes outside is comparable to one cup of coffee – boosting your energy! Natural sunlight helps to minimize pain and helps improve your immune system. Moreover, people who spent two to three hours in nature per week were 20% more likely to report increased satisfaction with their lives. Click here to read more about the benefits of getting outdoors.
One of the best parts of having a pet is the human-animal connection. Before heading into the great outdoors with your pet, make sure you prepare adequately so you can keep your pet healthy and happy. Let’s start with the basics.
Tips for protecting your pet against disease:
One of the main concerns with bringing a pet outside is the pesky insects that can infest or bite our pets, transmitting potentially life-threatening diseases.
Here are a few vectors (bugs that cause disease) you should be on the lookout for:
These are probably the most common ectoparasites (parasites of the skin) we see in veterinary medicine. Pets often present to us with loss of hair at their tail base. Some pets can have severe allergic reactions to fleas, with even one flea bite starting a chain reaction of itchiness that can lead to constant inflammation, redness/irritation of the skin, ear infections, etc. Not to mention fleas transmit a few scary diseases such as the bubonic plague (more common in the Western part of the U.S.), “cat scratch disease”, and intestinal parasites such as tapeworm.
The most common and deadly disease we see transmitted by mosquitoes in our companion animals is heartworm. Heartworm is much more common in dogs (and ferrets) than in cats, but it only takes a few heartworms to kill a cat. It is important to have companion animals on heartworm prevention all year round, especially in states with heavy mosquito populations. Talk to your vet about specific products intended to prevent heartworms. For more information on heartworm disease, click here.
Alas, we have come to our main topic of conversation today – TICKS. Ticks transmit numerous diseases and can even cause problems themselves through blood loss (think – anemia) and toxicity via saliva (tick paralysis). The CDC officially states that it takes 36-48 hours in order for a tick to transmit disease. This is why tick checks are so important, even if your pet is on prevention. Symptoms of tick-borne diseases appear within one to three weeks (or more) after the initial bite. The most common tick disease that you will recognize is Lyme Disease. There is a vaccine available, but veterinarians tend to only recommend it in areas with a high Lyme disease burden, such as the Northeast. Other diseases include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Canine Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis, Canine Bartonella, Hepatozoonosis (dogs), and Cytauxzoonosis (cats).
Now, I just threw a crazy list of tick-borne diseases at you. I am not going to go into detail into every single disease I listed above, but I will say that many of these can also affect humans. Therefore, it is extremely important when going outside to protect both you AND your pet.
How do I protect my pet?
There are SO many products on the market today for flea/tick/heartworm prevention in dogs and cats. As an owner, it is important to be vigilant and tell your veterinarian EXACTLY what your lifestyle is so that they can make the proper, EPA-approved, preventative recommendations.
First, many products on the market are not licensed for tick prevention.
A great website for checking what specific products are labeled to prevent is capcvet.org. Click here for their product reference guide that will give you more information on specific products currently on the market. The Companion Animal Parasite Council updates this list regularly, but it is not complete. Companies release new products constantly. Ask your veterinarian to see if any new products have been released that might meet your lifestyle needs.
It is also important to read product labels thoroughly to see when products kill ticks. Click here to find out how reading product labels helps you as an owner.
Here is another example of why reading a product label is important. Certain brands of preventatives are licensed in dogs to prevent fleas and ticks for 12 weeks. However, the label specifies that this product protects against black-legged ticks, American dog ticks, and brown dog ticks for 12 weeks, but lone star ticks for only 8 weeks. If lone star ticks are an issue in your area, then you might want to consider a different product.
To find out which tick species are prevalent in your area, ask your veterinarian (or check out capcvet.org).
Now, I know this is a lot of information. Choosing the right preventative sounds complicated, and that is because it is! You want to do what is best for your pet, which is why it is important to consult with your veterinarian about which product to choose.
IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE:
Always ask your primary care veterinarian what they recommend Also, do not use any product off-label. Do not use products labeled for dogs on cats and vice versa. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Some products labeled for use in dogs are TOXIC to cats.
ANOTHER NOTE ABOUT CATS:
There is a very fatal tick-borne disease called Cytauxzoonosis that is particularly prevalent in the Southern United States. If you have an indoor/outdoor cat or take your cat hiking with you, it is important to do regular tick checks and keep your cat on prevention year-round. Tick species that transmit this disease are the American Dog Tick and the Lone Star Tick. Products that protect your cat against both these species can be found on capcvet.org.
Click here for more tips on flea and tick prevention, including managing flea and tick populations in your yard or home.
What else can I do to prevent disease?
Because not every preventative protects against all tick species and occasionally ticks are not killed in the 48-hour window it takes to transmit disease, tick checks are incredibly important! You must check both yourself and your pet for ticks every time you return from an outdoor adventure. See videos below for how to do tick checks.
How to do a tick check
On your dog…
Now that we have prevention squared away…
Head outside and enjoy the moment! By practicing the safety and tick prevention information I have detailed above, both you and your furry companion will be prepared to prevent harmful bites and disease. I know that this is a lot of information, so if you have any questions feel free to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about ticks and commonly asked questions about tick removal, click here.
- Getting outside improves the mental health of both you and your pet
- Use #TheGreatOutdoorsChallenge and spread awareness for how getting outside in nature has benefited you
- Keep your pets on flea, heartworm, and tick preventative products year-round
- Talk to your veterinarian about what tick prevention products are best for the ticks in your area and your lifestyle
- Perform tick checks every time you come back from adventuring outside
If you’d like to learn more about The Traveling Dogtor, click here to read my story.