Most pets will experience a parasite problem at some point during their lifetime. Not only can this be unpleasant and frustrating for both you and your pet, but there are also some types of parasites that can have serious consequences for your furry friend. Many people mistakenly believe that parasite problems are unavoidable, but this isn’t the case. There are now more treatments than ever before that can prevent your pet from ever having to suffer from the irritation and other effects of parasite infestations.
There are various different types of parasites, although some are more common than others. They can generally be divided into two categories – internal and external. Internal parasites live inside your pet and can’t usually be seen unless they pass out of the body (such as is the case with some varieties of parasitic worms) while external parasites live on the outside of your pet’s body. Some of the most common types of the parasite to be aware of include:
Fleas are arguably the most well-known parasite to affect our pets. They are also one of the hardest to get rid of completely, and treatment can take days or even weeks to be effective. Fleas are virtually microscopic, flightless creatures that travel between animals by jumping. Despite their tiny size, they can jump huge distances. When they find a new host, they bite into the skin to consume their blood. One of two fleas may not have much of an effect on your pet, but fleas reproduce at an exponential rate and this means that fleas usually appear in large populations where feasting on your pet could put them at risk of anemia. Flea saliva is also toxic to animals, causing irritation that prompts pets to scratch. A percentage of pets are actually allergic to flea saliva and will experience a more significant reaction. Flea allergy dermatitis is one of the most common allergies seen in animals.
Ticks are another external parasite that drops onto your pet from trees, plants, and bushes. Ticks are well known for carrying a range of diseases including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and rocky mountain spotted fever. All of these can have serious consequences for the health of your pet. Tick-borne diseases don’t present with any immediate symptoms, and in fact, it can take a number of weeks or months to realize that your pet has been affected. Ticks are visible to the naked eye though, and so checking your pet when you groom them is recommended as this gives you the best opportunity to spot and remove them before they harm your pet.
There are several types of parasitic worm that can infect our animals, and most are picked up from contact with the feces of an already-infected pet. These feces usually contain worm eggs. Most worms live in the digestive system where they breed and multiply, causing symptoms including coughing, vomiting/diarrhea, low appetite and energy, and weight loss.
It is also important to be aware of another type of worm, called heartworm. Heartworm larvae are transmitted by mosquitos who carry infected blood between animals. Unlike other worms, heartworms live in the blood vessels of the heart and lungs of their host where they too mature and reproduce. As their numbers grow, they can prevent healthy blood flow, causing the host to experience organ damage and eventually, death. The symptoms of heartworms are subtle and very easily overlooked. It can take until heartworm larvae to mature (6 months) for symptoms to become apparent and by this time, significant damage will have already been done to your pet’s health. Symptoms of heartworms include a mild, persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue and decreased appetite.
Since some types of parasites present a risk to humans since they can either directly or indirectly transmit illnesses to us, proper preventative care is strongly recommended.
Fortunately, there are many options available to conscientious and responsible pet owners who prioritize keeping their animals safe from the harmful effects of parasite infections. Precisely which you will need will depend on the type of infection you are dealing with.
Fleas are particularly hard to get rid of, and this is primarily down to their size and the rate at which they reproduce. A single flea can lay as many as 30 eggs and these are impossible to spot with the naked eye. When you treat a flea infestation, you need to target the eggs as well as the live fleas. This means treating your property as well as your pet. Home products and a vigorous cleaning routine are essential.
Topical parasites can usually be treated and prevented in a variety of ways. These include:
Topical treatments such as shampoos, ointments, and creams.
Injections (these protect against heartworms)
Heartworms are difficult and expensive to treat. Treatment is also only effective in dogs and there is no current cure for cats with heartworms. Therefore, prevention is crucial. There are also several different heartworm preventatives available and these are only available directly from your vet. They will be able to advise you which would be best for your pet.
The most important thing to remember is that preventatives must be given on a strict schedule. Failure to administer preventatives on time could leave your animal at risk of picking up a parasite.
If you’d like more information about heartworm, flea, and other parasite control, please get in touch with our veterinary team in Hinesville, GA.