Dogs and cats are susceptible to many different types of parasites. Many of these parasites can cause illness for your pet and some can even create problems for you and your family. Fortunately, most of these parasites are easily treated and/or prevented.
Fleas are One of the Most Common Parasites of Dogs and Cats
Dogs and cats can become infested with fleas easily. It is a common misconception that pets which live most or all of their lives indoors are immune. In fact, these pets can become infested with fleas also.
Fleas can cause of variety of illnesses for both dogs and cats. Among the most common flea-related problems for pets are “hot spots,” flea allergies and tapeworms.
Fleas are also the carriers of the bacteria which is responsible for cat scratch disease, a disease which rarely causes symptoms for cats but which may be transmitted to people through the contamination of scratch or bite wounds with flea feces, causing disease.
Fortunately, there are a number of products that prevent fleas that are effective and safe for pets. Always read the label and follow directions carefully when using flea products. Consult your veterinarian to determine which product is best suited to your pet.
Ticks: Another External Parasite of Dogs and Cats
Ticks are another parasite that can infest both dogs and cats. Ticks attach to the skin of the pet and feed off of blood. They may also feed on humans.
Ticks are responsible for the transmission of many types of diseases to dogs, including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and more. For cats, ticks can transmit babesiosis and possibly other parasitic diseases.
Many of these diseases can also infect people when bitten by a tick. Though they are not generally passed from dogs or cats to people, pets can carry ticks into areas inhabited by people.
Preventing ticks is best accomplished by keeping pets out of tick-infested areas. Routinely checking your pet’s hair coat for ticks is advisable, and ticks should be removed quickly and carefully if found. Never handle a tick directly without wearing gloves.
There are also numerous topical products available that aid in tick control. Follow all label directions precisely and consult your veterinarian to determine which product is safest for your pet.
Heartworms in Pets: A Mosquito-Borne Parasite
Both dogs and cats can be infected with heartworms by the bite of an infected mosquito, but the disease manifests itself differently in dogs than in cats. In dogs, heartworms infect the heart and blood vessels, causing heart failure and symptoms consistent with heart failure. In cats, heartworms tend to affect lungs moreso than (or least previous to affecting) the heart and cause respiratory symptoms such as difficulty breathing and wheezing.
Heartworms can be a fatal infection in both dogs and cats. Luckily, there are numerous safe and effective heartworm preventive medications that are easy to administer. Heartworm prevention can be accomplished by giving monthly tablets, many of which are flavored and chewable. Monthly topical products are also available. In addition, for dogs, some veterinarians offer an injection which will protect your dog from heartworms for six months. However, the injection may not be readily available through all veterinarians.
Intestinal Worms and Other Intestinal Parasites in Dogs and Cats
The most frequently seen worms in dogs and cats are roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and (in dogs) whipworms. Other intestinal parasites frequently seen are coccidia and Giardia, both of which are small single-celled organisms that parasitize the canine and feline gastrointestinal tract.
These intestinal parasites can be transmitted by varying means depending on the parasite. Many are passed by fecal-oral contact, or ingestion of infected feces. Some can be passed from mother to puppies across the placenta or through milk. Some require intermediate hosts, such as fleas for certain types of tapeworms. Hunting and ingesting prey animals and/or insects can also transmit some types of intestinal parasites.
Intestinal parasites can be detected by having your veterinarian perform a fecal examination in which your pet’s feces will be processed and tested microscopically for parasites and parasite eggs. This should be performed regularly, usually every 6-12 months at a minimum.
Some intestinal parasites can infect people as well and can be quite serious for young children. These include roundworms, hookworms and Giardia.
There are numerous products that can be used to treat infection with intestinal parasites and it is best to identify the type of parasite involved in order to choose the most appropriate treatment choice. Additionally, many of the monthly heartworm preventive medications aid in controlling some of the worms commonly encountered.