Keeping Farm Dogs Healthy

Veterinarian covers key health risks our dogs are up against

Our dogs are often by our side as our best companions, watching over us without even being asked. They selflessly just do, and they are more than deserving of the same protection and care in return.

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 rattle snake was gone. She was protecting me,” recalled President of Valley Vet Supply, Omar Hinojosa. “She was always with me and was my second set of eyes, watching over me---we had some very protective mama cows. Our dogs are always there for us, and we owe it to them to shield them from any potential health risks.”

For key dog health advice, we turned to Paul DeMars, DVM, DABVP, clinical associate professor at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, who said especially for our ranch dogs, “The biggest risks are parasites and tickborne illnesses, in which most are preventable. We have some great, easy-to-use and cost-effective preventatives for heartworm, flea and tick control, and parasites.”

Risk No. 1: Heartworm disease

Transmitted by mosquitoes, heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease affecting a number of mammals. Dr. DeMars warns, “With heartworms being spread by mosquitoes, dogs that spend more time outdoors will get more mosquito bites.” Heartworm risk remains throughout the year, as mosquitoes will shelter from the colder months indoors or other protected areas.

Dr. DeMars said, “Every dog should be on a year-round heartworm preventative.” 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, and keep them on a heartworm pill 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,” warned Dr. DeMars. 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-born disease symptoms:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • 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. New Seresto collars are safe for dogs and cats and have a repellent activity, as well. Nexguard and Simparica are excellent at stopping fleas and ticks. The disease prevention way out pays for the cost,” said Dr. DeMars.

    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.

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Whipwormsreside in infected soil and especially present risks when dogs dig in the dirt. Signs can include severe diarrhea, weight loss, bloody or mucous-covered stools, blood loss, dehydration, anemia, or worse.
    4. Tapewormscan 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).
    5. Dr. DeMars also shared the importance of arthritis acknowledgement 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,” said Dr. DeMars. Do not wait until your dog has a serious arthritis problem to discuss the issue with your veterinarian, urges Dr. DeMars.

      “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. 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 diets such as Purina Pro Plan Joint Mobility can support aging, arthritic dogs; joint supplements also help improve mobility. “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 preventive health care,” said Hinojosa. “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.”

      Visit veterinarian-founded Valley Vet Supply at ValleyVet.com for your every pet, livestock or equine need, including: prescription pet food, medications, wormers for dogs, treats and more. Continue learning with health tips and more for your animals large or small at ValleyVet.com/education.

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