Photo by Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Humane Society Staff Member Haley Shackelford checks the fur of “Sisco,” one of the dogs housed at the group’s shelter, for signs of flea or tick bites. Officials with the group said fleas and ticks are particularly prevalent in the spring.
Spring is upon us, and with the blooming flowers and warmer temperatures come several threats — from parasitic to environmental — that can put a pet’s life in jeopardy, according to officials with the Clayton County Humane Society.
The diseases and parasites carried by ticks and insects are the major issues pet owners have to especially careful about, the pet adoption officials explained.
“We have had an unusually mild winter, and because of this, we are seeing a much earlier and much more abundant insect population with regard to ticks, fleas and mosquitoes,” said Clayton County Humane Society President Michelle Bryant. “Spring brings issues for companion animals from insects such as fleas, ticks and mosquitoes every year. All three of these can cause harm to your pets.”
Now that spring has been underway for a week, officials from the Clayton County Humane Society sat down and talked about all of the issues pet owners have be careful about, whether it is deadly parasites, irritating allergies, or deceptively cute kittens.
Parasites, insects, and allergies! Oh my!
If people are not careful about making sure their pets are protected from insects and parasites, the animals could be at greater risk of contracting diseases and parasites that range from Lyme Disease to heartworms, according to the Jonesboro-based Humane Society chapter.
Bryant said ticks, in particular, pose threats to pets in a number of ways. “Ticks are more abundant in warmer temperatures,” she said. “Our area is home to several species of ticks and all of them carry disease that can potentially affect your pets as well as you.”
The Humane Society president explained there are four main types of ticks in the Southern Crescent that can attack pets. She added each tick carries one of three types of diseases that a pet can contract from a tick bite.
The American Dog Tick and the Brown Dog Tick carry the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever; The Black-Legged Tick, which is also known as a “Deer Tick,” carries Lyme Disease, and the Lone Star Tick carries Ehrlichiosis, according to Bryant.
Similarly, a flea bite can jeopardize a pet’s health in two key ways. On the one hand, fleas can carry tapeworms and flat parasitic worms. On the other hand, they can cause dermatitis, or flea allergies in an animal, according to staff at the Clayton County Humane Society’s shelter in Jonesboro.
“If they get just one bite, it can itch and bother them for days,” said Wilma Nace, a staff member at the shelter.
Another staff member, Haley Shackelford, said pet owners should carefully run their fingers through their pet’s fur, and check the animal’s skin for bumps or abrasions. “If you find a bump, or an abrasion, it could be a flea, or tick, bite, or it could be a tick that has burrowed its way under the skin,” she said.
Shackelford and Nace said another sign that a pet could be affected by either a flea allergy, or a seasonal allergy is a lack of fur in certain spots. They explained that the allergies can cause the animal to itch, and so their reaction is to try and bite the itch. As a result, they lose sections of their fur coat.
Bryant recommended people also give their pets regular baths, to wash pollen out of their fur, since the pollen can cause allergies in pets, just as it does with humans. She added there are medicines available to help control a pet’s allergies, but she recommended people consult their veterinarian to determine the best course of action for handling pet allergies.
“Some animals have recurring allergies and will need to be on some type of medication on and off all year while others have to be on medicine every year during a particular season to be comfortable,” the Humane Society president said.
But the threat that can likely kill a pet is the insect that most people see as just an irritating summer pest — the mosquito. The average person may know the mosquito as the insect that carries the West Nile Virus, but pet lovers also know them as the carrier of heartworms.
“Mosquitoes are the only source of heartworm infection in our companion animals,” said Bryant. “As little as a single bite from an infected mosquito can begin the cycle. Since there is no way to tell which mosquitoes are ‘infected,’ prevention is critical.”
Bryant explained that the growth cycle of a heartworm, from larvae to adult heartworm, can take approximately seven months — and then they begin to reproduce inside the animal’s lungs, heart and blood vessels. Symptoms that will eventually show up in a pet, include a cough, easier exhaustion, decreasing activity, abnormal lung sounds, passing out, and fluid-retention problems.
Year-round heartworm prevention is thus recommended by the American Heartworm Society.
“Adult heartworms can grow up to 12 inches long, live up to 5-7 years, and will eventually kill the infected animal in an agonizing way,” Bryant said.
Humane Society officials people take several steps to protect their pets from these threats, including making sure their animals receive regular flea and tick-prevention treatments. They also recommend people not keep standing water around since it can be a breeding ground for mosquitos.
They also said owners should take their pets to a veterinarian for treatment, if they are attacked by any of these pests.
“Kitten Season” is about to arrive
April showers may bring May flowers, but they also bring lots and lots of kitten litters.
Now, everyone loves cute, little, cuddly kittens. These little baby cats are not actually a threat to anyone’s life, but they do pose a burden for local pet-adoption shelters every spring, and stretch their resources thin as litter after litter is dropped off on their doorstep.
“Historically, during the ‘kitten season’ ... people find kittens everywhere — literally!” Bryant explained. “[Almost] any commercial center ... has one or more stray cats surviving, and reproducing, by the dumpsters out back. These are most likely offspring from a prior litter that was not taken care of, and have set up shop as a means of survival.”
The fact that adoption shelters have limited resources to handle the litters, on top of the animals they already care for, is one reason why spaying and neutering is recommended for pets, she said.
The Clayton County Humane Society, and the Henry County Humane Society have three local spaying and neutering programs that they recommend people take their pets to, if they do not have a veterinarian.
Those programs are Project Catsnip (phone number is 770-448-6806); Spay Georgia (770-662-4479), and the Lifeline Animal Project (678-973-2881).
“While most people would agree — the sweetness and meowing of a litter of kittens is heart-warming — those [people] with unsterilized cats [that are] allowed to continually breed, fail to look down the road at what will be the fate of those kittens and the litters to come,” Bryant said.
Who to contact about adopting a pet
Clayton County Humane Society
7810 North McDonough Street
Jonesboro, Ga. 30236
Henry County Humane Society
46 Work Camp Road
McDonough, Ga. 30253
Clayton County Animal Control
1396 Government Circle
Jonesboro, Ga. 30236
Henry County Animal Care and Control
527 Hampton Street
McDonough, Ga. 30253
Contact information for local spay/neuter programs
Phone: (770) 448-6806
Phone: (770) 662-4479
Lifeline Animal Project
Phone: (678) 973-2881
Pet issues people should be aware of
Disease and parasites
Insects and parasites can carry several other parasites, as well as diseases, that can jeopardize a pet’s health, and even its life. These threats, broken down by their carrier, include:
• Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (carried by the American Dog Tick, and the Brown Dog Tick).
• Lyme Disease (carried by the Black-Legged Tick, which is also known as a “Deer Tick”) .
• Ehrlichiosis (which is carried by the Lone Star Tick).
• Tape worms
• Flat parasitic worms
People are not alone in being affected by spring-time allergies. Pets are also affected by many of the things in the spring-time environment that cause allergies in humans. Some things that cause allergies in pets include:
• Season allergies
Spring is when cats tend to have litters of kittens, so people who have not had their cats spayed — or who work in areas that are home to stray cats — can expect to see a lot of kittens running around soon.
Source: Clayton County Humane Society