How to Prevent and Treat 5 Common Parasites in Dogs and Cats
Parasites are something most pet owners would rather not think about. It's not pleasant to consider something living in your pet's digestive system or on their skin, and getting a diagnosis often involves the unpopular task of collecting a stool sample.
However, parasites are a common issue facing pets who go outdoors, and while they can cause serious problems if left unchecked, your vet can help treat them successfully. Here are some of the parasites your pet is most likely to encounter.
What Are They?
Hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, and whipworms are all minuscule parasites that infect pets' digestive systems. Minor infections may not cause any symptoms, while more serious worm loads can lead to diarrhea, blood in stool, weight loss, and in serious cases, anemia.
For all intestinal parasites, avoiding other infected animals is key. Hygiene in yards and indoors can prevent transmission between pets or reinfection in a pet after treatment. Tapeworms can be spread by fleas, so routine flea prevention is important. Some preventative treatments for heartworms, commonly given to many pets, are also effective against roundworms.
After being treated with a dewormer, your dog or cat may need a follow-up treatment to kill any larvae that survived the first round. Some intestinal parasites can be transmitted to humans, so caution and proper hygiene are important.
Fleas & Ticks
What Are They?
Fleas are small, highly mobile insects that feed on the blood of dogs or cats. They can transmit disease, cause discomfort, and trigger allergies. Ticks are arachnids that also feed on blood, but they are less mobile, latch on for longer, and become engorged with blood. Ticks transmit a number of serious diseases.
Fleas and ticks are often controlled with the same treatment, either in the form of drops applied to pets' fur on a regular schedule, or special collars worn all the time. Both forms of prevention are intended to repel the pests and kill any that do end up on a pet. Pet owners should also avoid tick-friendly environments (brushy, wooded areas during warm months) and promptly deal with any fleas in the home.
For fleas, which can infest your home as well as your pet, begin treatment in consultation with your vet as soon as you notice a problem. This may consist of topical or oral control products, in combination with washing bedding and possibly spraying outdoor areas.
For ticks, carefully remove any you find on your pet (taking special care not to leave the tick's head in your pet's skin), and ask your vet if they want to test the tick. If not, they may want to test your pet for tick-borne illnesses, depending on your location, or simply wait and see. Consider where your pet may have picked up the tick(s) and avoid that outdoor area if possible.
Are you and your pet ready for the upcoming tick season? Download our free guide to make sure that you're both prepared.
What Are They?
Heartworm prevention is important, as it's much easier to prevent infection than to treat it. Most heartworm preventatives are monthly doses, usually in the form of a chewable treat. The dose is based on your pet's weight.
Heartworm treatment is difficult and not always successful. Melarsomine is the current treatment drug, usually given over several doses. Pets going through treatment must be restricted from activity as their bodies process the heavy load of dead worms.
What Is It?
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a microscopic parasite. While dogs and other animals can be infected with this parasite, only cats can host the full life cycle and infect other animals.
For outdoor pets, prevention is difficult because they can be infected by eating smaller animals that are already infected. If you have an indoor-only cat, avoid feeding them raw or undercooked meat and there's very little chance they will encounter the toxoplasma parasite.
Treatment consists of an antibiotic, sometimes combined with additional medication to treat related inflammation.
What Are They?
Ear mites are tiny mites that infect pets' ears, where they breed and cause discomfort.
These mites can be difficult to prevent, especially for outdoor pets, but checking and cleaning your pets' ears frequently can help.
Treatment for ear mites involves thoroughly cleaning the ear and applying a topical medication. Follow up treatments are often done at home to make sure the mites are eradicated.
Despite the health risks these parasites pose for pets and humans, they are all treatable if detected promptly. The regular healthcare you should already be giving your pet (heartworm prevention, flea and tick treatments, and regular checkups), combined with observing your pet's behavior and feces, can prevent parasite infections or lead to successful treatment.
Contact us today if you have questions about parasites or would like to schedule a routine check-up for your pet.
About Dr. Natalie Waggener
Dr. Natalie Waggener has 17 years of experience in emergency work and general practice in Rhode Island, Florida and Massachusetts. She has a special interest in dentistry, wellness care and rehabilitation therapy. She is currently licensed in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.