Both external and internal parasites can have a devastating effect on your pets’ health. If they show any of these behaviors or symptoms, it’s possible they have parasites and need to see a veterinarian ASAP:
- Excessive itching, scratching, fur loss or skin infections
- Irritation or inflammation of joints
- Fever or lameness
- Scratching ears, head shaking, or a noxious smell coming from the ears
- Patches of red or irritated skin, scaliness
- Soft, dry, chronic cough or shortness of breath
- Weight loss or listlessness
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain and discomfort
A bite from any external parasite can be cause for concern.
Fleas are small, jumping, blood-feeding insects that are dark brown and approximately the size of a sesame seed—baby fleas may only appear as a tiny back dot in your pet’s fur. Flea dirt can be an indication of a flea infestation even when live fleas are not seen. Flea dirt presents as a pepper-like material in your pet’s fur that turns red when mixed with water—this material is excreted from the flea after feeding on the pet’s blood. Fleas can be picked up wherever an indoor or outdoor infestation exists. Adult fleas are one of the most common causes of skin problems in dogs and cats, and typically cause itchiness and irritation on the pet’s hind end and above the tail base. Fleas can also carry and transmit tapeworms.
Ticks are eight-legged blood feeders. Pets most at risk for tick-borne illnesses are those exposed to grassy and/or wooded areas populated by wild animals. You may see both nymphs and adult ticks on your pets. Once attached to your pet, a tick can transmit a number of diseases. The most common tick-transmitted diseases in this area are Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It is important to always check yourself and your pet thoroughly after coming in from outside. The best line of defense against ticks is to make sure your pet is on a good, safe flea and tick preventative all 12 months of the year.
Ear mites are common, microscopic, crab-like bugs that live and breed in your pet’s ear canal. Ear mites generally present as a coffee ground-like discharge inside of the ear canal and tend to be extremely itchy. Although ear mites are most commonly found in cats, dogs are occasionally affected too. Ear mites are more commonly observed in cats that come into direct contact with other cats that are host to the mites. They can cause bacterial and/or yeast infections. In severe cases, the scratching and head shaking can lead to a ruptured eardrum.
Mange Mites: Demodectic and Sarcoptic mange are the two most common skin mites found in companion animals.
Demodectic mites cause demodectic mange, which is most commonly seen in dogs and immune-compromised cats. These microscopic mites are normal inhabitants of the skin, but will occasionally develop in larger quantities which present in the classic Demodex look—scaly skin with patchy fur loss. Demodectic mange in adult dogs, and in cats (although rare), may indicate an underlying medical condition.
Sarcoptic mites cause sarcoptic mange, commonly known as scabies. Dogs of any age are susceptible to these mites and can be afflicted at any time of year. Scabies is highly contagious (to other pets as well as humans) and can be passed by close contact with infested animals, bedding or grooming tools.
Internal parasites get into your pet’s digestive or circulatory system.
Heartworm is transmitted by as many as 30 different species of mosquito to dogs and cats. When a mosquito bites an infected pet, it takes in larvae when it feeds. During the next 2-3 weeks, the larvae develop within the mosquito into the infected stage, and when it feeds again, it can transmit infected larvae to the healthy pet. It is important to test your dog annually for heartworm and keep him/her on a year round heartworm preventative. Heartworm disease can present with coughing as well as exercise intolerance, although heartworm may develop with no symptoms at all. Although rare, heartworm disease can occasionally occur in cats. There is currently no known treatment for feline heartworm. If left untreated, heartworm disease in dogs can be fatal.
Roundworms are spaghetti-like worms often seen in the vomit and feces of puppies and kittens. Most puppies are born with a roundworm infection. Kittens are more likely to be affected than adult cats. Outdoor cats are more likely to become infected with roundworms than indoor cats, especially if they hunt. Dogs and cats can develop adult worm infections within the digestive tract. Other possible modes of roundworm infection include either ingestion of infected eggs from the environment or from prey that harbor the parasite. Large numbers of eggs can be spread into the environment by an infected dog or cat.
Hookworms are small, blood-sucking worms with heads that “hook” into the small intestine, where they begin to eat away at the tissue and suck blood. This parasite can pose severe health problems for puppies and kittens because they have a lower blood supply than adults and can suffer from the adverse effects of blood loss more quickly. Eating a rodent infected with hookworm larvae, or ingesting hookworm larvae directly, are the most common way that pets acquire these worms.
Tapeworms are a common intestinal parasite and is more frequently found in cats. A tapeworm infection can occur when a cat ingests a host such as a rodent, rabbit, or adult flea harboring an infected tapeworm larvae. The adult tapeworm is made up of many small segments, each about the size of a grain of white rice. Usually, single segments — which contain tapeworm eggs — break off the tail end of the tapeworm, and are passed into the stool. A live tapeworm segment may look like a piece of coconut, where a dried tapeworm segment may look like a sesame seed – these are generally found around the pet’s anus or on top of the stool.
Whipworms get their name from the whip-like shape of the adult worms. The front portion of the worm is very thin (the whip) and the end is thick (whip handle). Dogs can get whipworms by eating dirt that contains the infected eggs of the adult parasite. Very rarely, cats are affected by whipworms. Ingesting food or water contaminated with whipworm eggs will also lead to a whipworm infection.
Prevention is a key ingredient to maintaining the health of your pet.
- Check your pet’s fur regularly for signs of fleas.
- Check your pet for ticks every time they come inside.
- Check your pet’s skin regularly for any abnormalities.
- Talk with your veterinarian about the best preventative for your pet. Many options prevent fleas, ticks, heartworm or a combination thereof through oral chews, topical drops or a long-lasting collar.
- Consider getting your dog vaccinated for Lyme disease.
- Clean your pet’s ears with a PH-balanced ear cleanser recommended by your vet.
- Clean up your dog’s waste promptly and wash hands well.
- Clean your litter box regularly.
- Test your dog annually for heartworm disease.
- Use heartworm preventative medications all 12 months of the year.
- Get your pet’s stool tested at their annual wellness visit with your veterinarian.
- Keep your home and outdoor areas as clean as possible.