Summer brings on a lot of outdoor fun, and pets seems to wake up to nature and warm weather. So do problems that can affect your pet's health, both short term and long term.

A number of e-mails recently have inquired about dogs that still eat their normal fare but experience weight loss. That could be caused by a lot of things, but one thing's certain: Any pooch that eats what it normally eats and suddenly starts losing weight needs to see the veterinarian. This is a sure sign that something is wrong. For example, this is one of the symptoms of heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis), caused by a parasitic worm that infests the pulmonary arteries after the dog has been bitten by a mosquito that has previously bitten an infected dog. The disease is life threatening and must be treated promptly.

Other signs of an infected dog include coughing after physical exertion and labored breathing. You can protect your dog by avoiding its exposure to mosquitoes, which is virtually impossible if your dog goes outside and mosquitoes are in season. So the best protection is preventive medication for heartworm, which can only be administered if your dog has not been infected.

Unfortunately, there is no protection against the West Nile virus, also carried by the pesky mosquito. It's best to keep your pet indoors at sunset and during the early evening hours, when those disease-laden pests are hunting for blood.

There are more kittens and puppies this time of year, and both species need to start their basic vaccinations at about 6 to 8 weeks of age. Follow-ups continue every four to six weeks until the pet reaches about 4 months of age. Until that time, dogs and cats are really not protected from some of the more prominent and serious diseases — cats from upper respiratory diseases and feline distemper, dogs from distemper and parvovirus. The length of time required for shots that fully protect your pet is one of the reasons I object to taking little ones to doggy parks and group classes when they are too young, not to mention their vulnerability to older dogs that may be aggressive to other animals.

Internal and external parasites are problems for both dogs and cats, especially now. Beware of fleas, ticks, flies and lice, all of which carry disease and cause serious allergic reactions. Fleas can also transmit internal parasites. So what can you do about the problems?

First, you need to inspect your pet regularly. Look beneath the fur to the skin for signs of fleas and for ticks. Check your pet from head to toe. Fleas are sneaky little devils, and there is more than one variety. Some prefer ears. Others lurk in armpits. And when you come searching for them, they scatter so rapidly that you may miss them if you are not diligent in the search. If your pet is scratching frantically or digging into its skin ferociously with its teeth, you can be sure you have a problem that needs tending. There are a number of different types of flea protection, and you should ask your veterinarian about the best solution for your pets.

Embedded ticks must be removed immediately and disposed of, and this is no easy task. You may want your vet to handle this. Ticks cause blood loss and eventual anemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other blood diseases. Among the most common today is Lyme disease. Once any and all pests have been removed from your dog or cat, you must treat your home with thorough cleaning and the use of an appropriate, nontoxic pesticide. Disinfect all areas, including your pet's bedding. If your home is infested, a professional exterminator may be the best choice.

Special note: Remember to keep your pets inside during fireworks displays. Fireworks can cause them to bolt and run. It you want preconditioning instructions, visit and search for "fireworks."


Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Send your questions to [email protected] or mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619. © Creators Syndicate Inc.