He went to open the gate toward another pasture on the family’s South Texas ranch, and his dog Hilda, an Australian shepherd, wouldn’t let him take another step. Soon, he learned why.
Underneath a tumbleweed-like shrub known as Barba De Chivo, was a rattlesnake.
“Hilda kept me there long enough that when I made my way to the gate, the rattlesnake was gone. She was protecting me,” recalled Omar Hinojosa, president of Valley Vet Supply. “She was always with me and was my second set of eyes, watching over me. Our dogs are always there for us, and we owe it to them to shield them from any potential health risks.”
For ranch dogs the biggest risks are parasites and tick-borne illnesses. Most are preventable.
“We have some great, easy-to-use and cost-effective preventatives for heartworm, flea and tick control, and parasites,” said Dr. Paul DeMars, clinical associate professor at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Risk No. 1: Heartworm disease
Transmitted by mosquitoes, heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease affecting a number of mammals.
“Dogs that spend more time outdoors will get more mosquito bites,” DeMars said.
Heartworm risk remains throughout the year, as mosquitoes will shelter from the colder months indoors or other protected areas.
“Every dog should be on a year-round heartworm preventative,” he advised.
Heartworm preventatives can cost an average of $10 per month, compared to heartworm treatment, which can cost more than $1,000 or the priceless cost of a dog’s life. Make sure dogs never miss an annual heartworm test, he said, and keep them on a heartworm preventative to protect against the risk.
Unlike other worms that are detected in a fecal sample, heartworms are detected through a blood test in a yearly, scheduled veterinary exam. Ensure heartworm testing is included in your pet’s annual exam with your veterinarian, as the earlier heartworm disease is detected, the better the chances for survival, should your dog test positive for heartworms.
Early on, most pets do not demonstrate symptoms, but as heartworm disease progresses, infected dogs may develop a persistent cough, fatigue, decreased appetite and weight loss. Dogs with increased numbers of heartworms are at risk for cardiovascular collapse, as the worms suddenly block blood flow within the heart.
Risk No. 2: Fleas and ticks
Fleas can transmit harmful bacterial pathogens and tapeworms when ingested during a pet’s self-grooming. Fleas also cause anemia and intense itching in pets. Some dogs may also develop flea allergy dermatitis, which results from an allergic reaction to flea saliva.
Like fleas, ticks also transmit harmful bacterial pathogens. One of the most dangerous and common tick-borne infectious diseases in dogs includes Ehrlichia Infection, which can cause lameness, eye issues such as blindness, neurological problems, weight loss and swollen limbs.
“The most commonly recognized sign is low blood platelets (colorless blood cells that help blood clot), which then cause bleeding if the platelets are low enough,” DeMars said.
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Among other diseases, ticks also transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.
It could take as long as 21 days for a pet to show signs of disease. In the case of Lyme disease, it can take as many as five months before signs become recognizable. Watch pets closely for changes in behavior or appetite, if there is any concern they have been bitten by a tick.
Common tick- or flea-borne disease symptoms:
- Enlarged spleen or lymph nodes
- Weight loss
- Gum discoloration
- Joint pain
- Swelling or stiffness of joints
There are several types of flea and tick control products, including oral or topical medications, powders and sprays, collars, or shampoos and dips.
“While older topical products exist, newer products are even more effective,” DeMars said.
Risk No. 3: Intestinal parasites
There are many different types of worms in the environment that can affect our dogs. Regularly deworming with a wormer that is specifically developed for dogs is the safest option to relieve their parasite burden. Learn about the four most common worms in dogs, below.
Hookworms attach themselves to a dog’s intestines and generate thousands of eggs within days. Your dog can come in contact with them walking through contaminated grass and soil. Signs can include diarrhea, weight loss, poor coat, slow growth and dehydration.
Roundworms thrive in contaminated soil and feces and are often found in young puppies, as well as adults. Signs include diarrhea, blood in stools, weight loss, poor hair coat, vomiting, lethargy, swollen stomachs and even colic.
Whipworms reside in infected soil and especially present risks when dogs dig in the dirt. Signs can include severe diarrhea, weight loss, bloody or mucus-covered stools, blood loss, dehydration, anemia, or worse.
Tapeworms can be seen caught in a dog’s fur around their rear. Often, they are transmitted through fleas, as the flea ingests the worm larvae and then the dog ingests the flea; they’re also transmitted through infected soil. Signs can include diarrhea or bloody stool, change in appetite, poor coat and weight loss, abdominal pain and scooting (less common).
DeMars also shared the importance of arthritis acknowledgment and prevention. Watch for signs of arthritis, like limping, abnormal posture, reduced activity or mobility, decreased muscle mass or abnormal grooming, as arthritic pets often lick, bite or chew on painful areas.
“The older pets get, the more likely they are to have arthritis problems; however, arthritis can occur earlier in life and happen at any age,” DeMars said.
He urges owners not to wait until your dog has a serious arthritis problem to discuss the issue with your veterinarian.
“Sometimes, people have a misunderstanding they have to wait, but if an animal is no longer moving or rising as well as they once were, there are effective medications their vet can prescribe to help with mobility issues,” he said. “Even if they think it’s just normal behavior from aging, like a change of attitude, appetite or mobility – bring it up with your veterinarian. It never hurts to say, ‘What do you think about this, Doc?’”
Special joint mobility diets, prescription medications and supplements also can support aging, arthritic dogs.
“We’re lucky to have many more tools available today than when I was growing up, so we can give our dogs the best in preventative health care,” Hinojosa said. “We can take steps to keep them healthy and happy so they can live out as many days as possible alongside us on the ranch. They are part of the family.”