Your Expat Pets

How to keep your fur babies healthy in Mexico
BY: KATE NEAL

This year brought about new regulations for bringing pets into Mexico, in an effort to crack down on communicable diseases. Originally, you only needed to provide timely proof of rabies shots, current vaccinations, and a general overall health assessment; now the requirements have become more stringent. As of February, all pets need proof of treatment for internal and external parasites, including fleas and ticks, within a month of entry. Documentation of the products used need to be noted on the accompanied health certificate, which must be completed by a licensed veterinarian.

But what happens once you’ve gotten Fido or Fluffy into Mexico? All that annoying paperwork that’s necessary to get your furry family members into the country is supposedly about Mexico protecting its own, not that most Mexicans seem to give a rat’s ass about pets. With the number of stray animals running around Baja, carrying parasites or other communicable diseases, you need to think about protecting your own.

The free-roaming community of dogs and cats are infested with ticks, which can cause a number of problems for our own furry friends. Ehrlichia, a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks, is running amok among the large stray population and untreated pets found in the area. And several years ago, Cabo experienced an epidemic that resulted in an outbreak of Lyme Disease in people.

The best we can do to keep both our animals and ourselves safe is be aware and take preventative action. Check your pet daily for hangers-on and remove them as soon as possible. Bathe your animals weekly with a suitable pesticide. Keep your outdoor areas scrubbed, and regularly trim your lawn or other spaces where ticks may live, spraying them with a non-toxic household insecticide. Products that prevent ticks and other parasites, such as monthly preventatives (e.g., Frontline, Revolution) or collars are a good idea, but be sure to follow your veterinarian's advice for use. Most of all, keep your eyes peeled for the signs that your pet may be infected - loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and abnormal bleeding (nosebleeds, or blood in the eyes, stool or vomit). 

Be aware that ehrlichia can easily be misdiagnosed as leukemia, which means your pet won’t get the needed treatment. If not caught in time, this can lead to organ failure, and eventual death. If your pet is experiencing symptoms, it is always a good idea to mention the disease to your vet. Ehrlichia responds well to antibiotics, but in some cases - especially if you have a foundling dog that has not had medical care - it can take several cycles of treatment.

Heartworm, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is also prevalent in the free-roaming population of animals in Baja. While most common in dogs (affecting just ten cats to every 100 canines) given the pervasiveness, pets should be treated equally for prevention. The microfilariae of the heart worm settle in the heart muscle, and adult worms invade like angel hair pasta. As the worms die, they break apart and pieces can flow to the lungs, causing clots and other nasty stuff. Not only is this disgusting, it can be a long, slow, and painful process.

Again, be aware of the signs. A symptomatic pet often coughs and pants excessively, is reluctant to exercise and fatigued after moderate activity. Watch for a decrease in appetite accompanied by weight loss. Non-treatment can cause a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen and eventual heart failure.

A regimen of multiple deworming injections will kill the parasites (as well as any GI worms that may exist), but unfortunately not all pets will survive that, depending on when the disease is caught. And while the required preventive treatment prior to entry into Mexico will keep the microfilaria of the heart worm from establishing itself in your pet’s bloodstream, ongoing treatment for both internal and external parasites is always a good idea.

Fleas are also rampant in the rural areas of Baja, and we can easily bring them inside with us, delivering them right to our indoor pets. These parasitic beasts attach to just about any place they hope may bring them a meal, transferring from a passing free-roaming animal, and clinging to our pant legs or shoes.

With this in mind, preventative measures are important for our pets whether they run about the outdoors or not. Most of the collars or other parasitic medications used to prevent ehrlichia will help with fleas but be sure to keep your eyes open by combing your pet frequently. As anyone who has dealt with fleas before understands, they are not easy to get rid of. 

All that being said, awareness and ongoing preventative measures are the best way to keep our pets safe. It’s also a good idea to establish a long-term relationship with a veterinarian in town, so they can become familiar with your pet’s past and ongoing needs.