They bite, irritate, jump and suck your precious pet’s blood. They live on her skin, swim through her bloodstream and feast in her intestinal tract or other parts of her body. They’re parasites, and they’re out for one thing: free room and board. With early treatment, most parasitic infections aren’t life-threatening and can be treated with medication. Learn how to protect your pet from these despicable freeloaders.
Common Internal Cat & Dog Parasites
Worms: Hookworms, tapeworms, whipworms,–all kinds of worms can invade your pet’s intestinal tract and can cause diarrhea, vomiting or weight loss, but they can also be present in your pet’s body without any symptoms. Heartworms can inhabit your pet’s blood stream and heart and may eventually affect many different organs but your pet may initially be asymptomatic. For intestinal parasites, your veterinarian can perform a physical exam and test a fecal sample. If it is determined that your pet has one of these parasites, he may prescribe a deformer solution as treatment. For cat and dog heartworm, prevention is key. Heartworm infection is almost always preventable with medication. However, if a blood test confirms that your pet has heartworm, your veterinarian can advise you about treatment options.
Coccidian: One rare form of coccidian affects the liver and can cause appetite loss, diarrhea, liver failure or in severe cases, death. The more common form affects the intestines and can cause weight loss, watery or mucous-like diarrhea and dehydration–or your pet may not show any signs of infection.
Cryptosporidium: This intestinal parasite is usually ingested through contaminated food, water or feces. Symptoms include fever and diarrhea, and possibly lethargy.
Giardia: Dogs, cats and even humans can contract giardia by coming into contact with infected feces or contaminated water. Symptoms include diarrhea, gas, abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting. Giardia can also be present with no obvious symptoms.
Common External Parasites
Fleas: These athletic bloodsucking bugs love to taste-test your pet. The result is itching, scratching, biting, chewing, hair loss or skin irritation. Anemia, tapeworms, and Flea Allergy Dermatitis in dogs and cats are all conditions that can stem from flea infestations. The best protection against fleas is using a combination of flea and tick preventative products year-round for your pet, home and yard.
Ticks: These bloodsucking arachnids can be found anywhere on your pet, but are more likely to be found on the ears, face, legs or belly. They can be carriers of serious diseases including Lyme disease in pets, so it’s important to check your pet regularly, and if one is found, remove it right away. To remove a tick safely from your pet, use a pair of pointed tweezers, hemostats or a tick removal tool to firmly grasp the tick at the head, which is closest to your pet’s skin. Pull the tick straight out using steady pressure, and place it in rubbing alcohol to kill it.
Mites: These parasites frequently hide in the dark recesses of your pet’s ear canals or beneath her luxurious fur. If your pet is infested, you might notice thick scabs near the ears and face, scaly dandruff or a thinning coat. You may also notice your pet itching, scratching or shaking their head.
Prevention is Key
When it comes to internal and external parasites, prevention and early detection are vital. Anytime you add a new pet to the family, schedule an appointment right away with your veterinarian for a thorough physical examination, as well as any necessary vaccinations. Observe your pet regularly and make note of any changes in her skin and coat, her grooming behavior (such as increased itching or scratching) or her appetite.
Note that in some cases, symptoms are not always visible, which is another reason annual check-ups are so important. Always talk to your veterinarian about the most effective steps to keep parasites at bay. If treatment is needed, be sure to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations thoroughly. Other steps may need to be taken to protect everyone in your house, including other pets.