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Dangerous Pet Parasites

It is so important for pet parents to educate themselves on dangerous pet parasites. Prevention and treatment are vital for any pet parent. Your veterinarian can answer any questions about prevention and treatment.  In this article we will just touch on the basics. Further research is strongly advised.

1. Ticks

Tick- borne disease is a growing threat to both canine and human health. Ticks are parasites that attach themselves to animals and people, feed on blood, and transmit diseases directly into the host’s system. Disease occurs when an infected tick bites a pet or a human and transmits the disease into the victim’s body.

The most important tick-borne diseases that affect pets are Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesosis, Bartonellosis, and Hepatozoonosis. All can have serious health consequences for pets and many can have serious health consequences for people as well.

It’s important that pet owners talk with their veterinarian to determine the best approach to flea and tick control measures for their dogs.

2. Fleas

The most common external parasite found on pets, fleas can be a major problem for dogs, cats and the whole family. Simple itching caused by fleas can be irritating enough for a dog or cat. But fleas can cause more serious health problems too. Fleas are also responsible for transmitting the dog tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum) to dogs, cats and even humans. In addition, fleas can spread bacterial diseases, too.

Some pets develop severe allergies to flea bites (called flea allergy dermatitis) and develop signs, such as itching, that may last long after the fleas have gone.

While outdoor pets are more susceptible, your dog or cat may be exposed to these blood-sucking parasites anywhere: in your own backyard, on walks or even in your own home. When it comes to fleas, the faster you get rid of them, the better!

3. Ear Mites

Ear mites are tiny mites, barely visible to the human eye, that live on the surface of ear canal skin in dogs and cats.   An infestation produces brownish ear wax, similar in appearance to coffee grounds.

Cats are more commonly affected than dogs. Ear mites are spread mostly by direct contact with another animal that has ear mites (they are commonly seen in outdoor cats). They are especially common in young animals.

The presence of ear mites causes inflammation, and can also lead to secondary ear infections. Eggs are laid in the ear, and it takes about 3 weeks for eggs to hatch and develop into adult mites that can reproduce. While ear mites are generally found in the ears, they can also wander out onto the body, causing irritation and itchiness of the skin as well.

There are several alternatives for treating ear mites, and your veterinarian will recommend a treatment protocol for your pet.

Over the counter medications are often less effective or require extended treatment times compared to medications prescribed by your vet, especially the newer medications that require a single application to be effective. First, a thorough cleaning of the ears can help clear the discharge to help calm the irritation and remove some of the mites.

4.  Heartworms

Dogs. The dog is a natural host for heartworms, which means that heartworms that live inside the dog mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. If untreated, their numbers can increase, and dogs have been known to harbor several hundred worms in their bodies. Heartworm disease causes lasting damage to the heart, lungs and arteries, and can affect the dog’s health and quality of life long after the parasites are gone. For this reason, prevention is by far the best option, and treatment—when needed—should be administered as early in the course of the disease as possible.

Cats. Heartworm disease in cats is very different from heartworm disease in dogs. The cat is an atypical host for heartworms, and most worms in cats do not survive to the adult stage. Cats with adult heartworms typically have just one to three worms, and many cats affected by heartworms have no adult worms. While this means heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats, it’s important to understand that even immature worms cause real damage in the form of a condition known as heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD). Moreover, the medication used to treat heartworm infections in dogs cannot be used in cats, so prevention is the only means of protecting cats from the effects of heartworm disease

Heartworm disease is a serious, progressive disease. The earlier it is detected, the better the chances the pet will recover. There are few, if any, early signs of disease when a dog or cat is infected with heartworms, so detecting their presence with a heartworm test administered by a veterinarian is important. The test requires just a small blood sample from your pet, and it works by detecting the presence of heartworm proteins. Some veterinarians process heartworm tests right in their hospitals while others send the samples to a diagnostic laboratory. In either case, results are obtained quickly. If your pet tests positive, further tests may be ordered.

5.  Tapeworms

Tapeworms are parasites of dogs and cats.   They live in the intestines and, although they rarely cause clinical symptoms or disease in pets, they rob their hosts of nutrients.

The most common type of tapeworm is spread by fleas. Pets contract this species of tapeworm when they swallow fleas in the process of grooming.  Other tapeworms are spread through improperly prepared food.

Tapeworms are relatively easy to prevent and to eliminate.  Keeping pets free of tapeworms is important for the health of pets, as well as that of humans who come into contact with them.  Tapeworms can spread to humans in some circumstances.

Tapeworms rarely cause pets to feel sick, and some pets with tapeworms will show no outward signs of  infestation.

Shedding of tapeworms segments in the feces is the most common symptom of tapeworm infestation in pets.  Owners often notice the segments in bowel movements, around the pet’s anus, or on bedding.  The segments are small pieces of the worm, and they look like grains of rice or, when dry, like sesame seeds. A pet that is infested with tapeworms may experience itching or irritation of the anus.  Diarrhea is an infrequent symptom of tapeworms.

Fleas spread the most common type of tapeworm (called Dipylidium) in dogs and cats.  Therefore, animals who do not receive proper flea control are at increased risk of infestation . Other tapeworms (called Echinococcus) also can be contracted from raw meat.  Animals whose diets contain improperly prepared raw meat can develop tapeworm infestations.  Pets that hunt and consume prey animals can contract tapeworms. Dogs who eat feces may contract Echinococcus tapeworms.

These are just a few of the many parasites that we, as good pet parents, have to take action and protect our pets and families from.

I hope you found this information helpful.  Our pets are our family, they need us to keep them safe, happy, and healthy.