Top 12 Things Pet Owners Should Know About Parasites
By Sarah Rumple
As a pet owner, you’ve likely heard about the dangers of parasites. But do you really know everything you should know about the tiny organisms? Have you had an in-depth conversation about them with your veterinarian? Are you doing all you can to prevent parasites in your pets and in your family?
Here are the top 12 things you should know to keep your pet and your family safe from parasites.
- What is a parasite? What are the types of parasites that can affect pets?
A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense. Some parasites that may affect your pet include:
- Ear Mites
- Mange Mites
- Can parasites be transmitted from pets to humans?
Yes, some worms can be transmitted in the environment, while fleas and ticks can carry and either directly or indirectly transmit several potential illnesses to humans.
- What are heartworms? Should I be concerned about them even if I don’t live in a high-risk area?
Heartworms are nematodes, or microscopic worms that infect many animal species. The larvae are transmitted through mosquito bites, maturing into worms once they arrive at the heart and blood vessels of the lungs. They can grow to as much as 11 inches in length, and can cause pulmonary disease, secondary heart problems and eventually death. Everyone with a dog or cat should be concerned about heartworm; mosquitoes are everywhere, and heartworms have been diagnosed in all 50 states.
- How is heartworm prevented?
A simple, chewable pill can prevent heartworm in pets if taken once per month. There also is monthly spot-on prevention medication available.
- Why does my veterinarian have to test for heartworms annually if my pet has been on preventive all year long?
Pets can have a life-threatening reaction if given heartworm preventive medications when they have an active heartworm infection, so your veterinarian wants to be sure that your pet does not have a heartworm infection before prescribing a heartworm preventive medication. You may have accidentally missed a dose, or your pet may have spit the heartworm medication out or vomited it up, leaving your pet unprotected for a period that you were unaware of. Combination tests for heartworms in dogs also help your veterinarian check for other diseases like those transmitted by ticks, such as Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis.
- How does a pet become infected with intestinal parasites?
Pets can become infected with intestinal parasites through many routes, including:
- Drinking contaminated water
- Coming into contact with other infected animals, although it’s unlikely if it’s just through casual contact
- Coming into contact with feces containing parasites eggs or larvae
- Swallowing fleas carrying the infective stage of tapeworms
- Nursing from an infected mother
- Eating a rodent or other small animal carrying the infective stage of a parasite
- Why is it necessary to bring a fecal sample in to my veterinarian?
To test for a number of internal parasites that could possibly be present.
- How are intestinal parasites prevented?
Bowel movements are the source of most intestinal parasites. To avoid parasites, keep your pet away from areas where other animals relieve themselves. Dispose of your own pet’s bowel movements as quickly as possible, and keep your pet and his environment clean. Keep your pet free of fleas, and make sure a fecal exam is included in his annual preventive care exam.
- What are the physical signs that an intestinal parasite is present in a pet?
Keep your eyes open for some of these changes:
- Change in appetite
- Diarrhea (sometimes with blood)
- Weight loss
- Skin irritation and itching
- Rough or dry coat
- Overall poor appearance
- How are intestinal parasites treated?
The medication will vary depending on the parasite(s) involved. Your veterinarian may prescribe pills, powders, liquids, or injectable medication.
- Are intestinal parasites transmittable from animals to humans?
Under some conditions, intestinal parasites can be transmitted from pets to people. Especially at risk are children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals (elderly are also at risk).
- What can you do to protect your pet and your family from parasites?
Responsible pet parasite control can reduce risks of pets becoming infected with parasites and their transmission to humans.
- Use flea, tick, and heartworm preventive year-round
- Visit your veterinarian annually for a preventive care exam
- Practice good personal hygiene
- Clean up pet feces regularly