Parasites are unwelcome guests to your pet’s body, and can threaten his or her well-being. There are many different kinds of parasite which can infect dogs and cats, both on the inside and outside of their bodies. Fortunately, most of these parasites are easily treated, easily prevented, or both.
Though too small to see with the naked eye, hookworms can cause serious harm to your pet’s health, and may even be fatal if left untreated – especially in kittens and puppies. These microscopic bloodsuckers are transmitted either by ingestion or by larval penetration of the skin. This can happen by exposure to water or an environment which has been contaminated, often by feces. Humans can even become infected by walking barefoot in contaminated areas. Puppies and kittens, on the other hand, typically acquire this parasite through their mother’s milk. Hookworms cause anemia, and can inflame the small intestines they infest. The good news is that, in most cases, hookworms can be easily cured by use of medication.
The parasite we see most commonly in pets is the roundworm. Unlike their fellow intestinal pests, roundworms can be seen with the naked eye, and can cause lethargy, swelling, poor appetite, and vomiting. They are contracted by fecal-oral transmission, and are particularly disposed to inhabiting the intestines of puppies from puppy mills and pet shops, as the close-quarter confinement of animals in these conditions makes it easy for them to spread. However, these worms can infect any dog or cat, and even people. Even worse, in human hosts, roundworms sometimes get lost and leave the intestine (this is known as “visceral larval migrans”), in which case the worms can wind up in the eye or brain, resulting in irreversible damage. Regular fecal examinations allow us to determine if your pet has these worms, and routine deworming can end any infestation of your pet.
Tapeworms are yet another form of intestinal parasite which resides in the small intestines of companion animals. They are transmitted to dogs and cats by ingestion of a host containing their larvae. In pets, this most commonly occurs by eating an infected flea. These worms are often detected when the owner notices (potentially moving) segments of them, which are not unlike white seeds or rice in appearance, near the anus or in pet’s stool. Fortunately, treatment is readily available for both the tapeworms and the fleas which carry them.
Whipworms infect the large, rather than the small intestine. Transmitted by the ingestion of contaminated matter, such as food or water, whipworms may cause diarrhea, anemia, weight loss, inflammation, or dehydration. Alternatively, whipworms may have no symptoms, and therefore be difficult to detect without regular check-ups. Once detected, however, whipworms are generally not difficult to treat, as they respond to most of the same medications as roundworms.
More insidious and deadly are Heartworms. These parasites are transmitted through mosquito bites. After entering the bloodstream of a new host through the bite, heartworm larvae will make their way to the heart, and mature into adults there. Dogs are more natural hosts for heartworms, but cats may also become infested in some cases. Often, infected animals will give a very little indication of illness – until it is too late, and the worms fatally obstruct the animal’s heart. Left untreated, heartworms are always lethal. Even with treatment, the damage the worms cause prior to said treatment cannot be reversed. However, heartworm prevention is simple and effective, consisting of either a chewable medication administered monthly or, more recently, of a semiannual injection delivered by your veterinarian.
Fleas are insects which can afflict even indoor cats and dogs. They can jump through open windows, even with screens, or hitchhike on clothing or other animals to reach inside your home. They then lay eggs wherever they can all around your home; in beds, rugs, carpets, furniture, and clothing. Not only do fleas cause annoying itching for animals, they can cause significant blood loss, and spread parasites and diseases. Flea Control is more accessible now than ever, due to the advancement of technology. Modern flea control consists of the application of topical liquids which quickly kill adult fleas. These same products also contain growth inhibitors which prevent a new infestation. There is also a chewable medication which prevents future infestations.
Ticks, like fleas, can irritate the skin, cause significant blood loss, and spread disease when they bite your pet. Unlike them, ticks generally will only attach to an animal which has been outdoors. Ticks in the local area cause several diverse diseases, including Lyme disease, Ehrlichia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Anaplasmosis, all of which are serious, and some of which can even be fatal. We can detect and treat these diseases, but it’s better to prevent them. If you have an outdoor pet, preventative measures against ticks may be in order.
Parasites and Your Pet
These are only some of the more common forms of parasites, and there is a multitude of factors to consider in keeping your furry friend free of pests. Talk to our veterinarians today to design a disease prevention plan which will be safe and effective for the needs of your pet.