Parasites can be a major source of irritation and disease to your pet. From weight loss, to diarrhea, to heart disease, and death, nasty creatures like intestinal worms and heartworms can have many unwanted side effects. Fleas can causing itching, skin infections, and allergic reactions. Ticks are known for their ability to pass diseases on to your pets. Across the board, keeping these creatures off of and out of your pet is important for them to live a healthy life.
Additionally, preventing parasites in pets also protects you and your family. Certain types of intestinal parasites (ex- roundworms, hookworms) can be passed to people. Diseases carried by fleas (ex- cat scratch fever, the plague) and ticks (ex- lyme, ehrlichia) can also become a concern if your pets are carrying these parasites into your homes.
For in-depth information on intestinal parasites, fleas, ticks, and heartworms, we direct you to the websites for the American Heartworm Society and the Companion Animal Parasite Council. General information specific to our patients is listed below.
Heartworms are parasites that live in the heart of dogs and cats. They are transmitted through the bite of mosquitoes, which pick up the disease when they bite other infected dogs. If your dog is infested with heartworms and it is not detected, it can cause heart failure and death. Treatment is possible in dogs but it is expensive, difficult, and hard on the pet. Unfortunately for cats, there are no good treatment options.
Luckily, in both dogs and cats, heartworm is easy to prevent. There are many options for prevention, including chewable treats, topicals, and injectable medications. Your pet should be tested yearly to ensure their medication is working as expected.
Intestinal parasites effect both dogs and cats. Common parasites in our area are roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms. These parasites are mostly transmitted when eggs on the ground enter your pet's mouth, but fleas and rodents can also transmit parasites. Roundworms and hookworms can be transmitted to people, but all can cause problems in your pet. Weight loss, diarrhea, anemia, and vomiting are common, but a large parasite load can cause death.
A fecal test will evaluate your pet for parasites. The best way to avoid the problems caused by intestinal parasites is a once a month dewormer product, which can be chewable or topical.
Fleas are bugs that crawl on your pet, biting to take a blood meal, and causing your pet to be very itchy. Some pets even have allergies to fleas, leading to scabbing, hair loss, and skin infections. Fleas are transmitted when they jump from other animals to your pet, or when the eggs they leave behind hatch out and jump onto your pet.
Fleas aren't just a nuisance, though. They carry diseases that can be transmitted to people such as the plague and cat scratch fever. To prevent fleas, a once a month medication should be given. This can either be topical or chewable, and is important to give even through the winter, as fleas love the warm environment in your home.
Ticks are parasites that are related to spiders, and in Missouri, ticks are a frequent problem anytime you step off the paved path. They come in many different varieties, each with their own diseases. The most common tick-bourne disease for pets in our state is Ehrlichia, which can cause significant bleeding issues, but there are others out there as well. While your pets won't transmit these diseases to you directly, the ticks they carry in can attach and transmit diseases to you.
Because there are so many ticks in our state, it is very important that every pet be on a tick prevention medicine once a month, every month, and regularly screened for tick disease.