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Parasites and Your Pets: Common Pests to Protect Against

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As a responsible pet owner, you know it’s important to keep your dog or cat protected from parasites. Some are more of an annoyance than anything, but others can be deadly – and it’s almost always easier to prevent the problem than to treat and get rid of parasites once they’ve infected your pet. Plus, it’s a lot less expensive!

Here are some of the most common critters that can hitch a ride into your home or on your pet.

External Parasites

These critters feed on your pet’s blood or skin. Some are visible to the naked eye, but others, like mites, are microscopically small.

  • Ticks: Especially if you live near a wooded area or have lots of wildlife around, you can bet that ticks are plentiful. Not only do they feed on your pet’s blood, but they are also carriers (or vectors) for dangerous diseases, including Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Lyme disease. If you spot a tick on your pet, remove it carefully with tweezers as soon as possible.
  • Fleas: These little jumpers can not only cause incredible discomfort with their bites, but fleas are vectors for tapeworms. If your pet licks her itches and ingests a flea carrying tapeworm eggs, she can end up infected.
  • Mites: Most pets have mites, but their immune systems keep the populations under control. If their immune systems are weakened, though, the infestation can lead to sarcoptic mange (when the mites burrow just under the surface of the skin) or demodectic mange (when they live in the hair follicles). Hair loss is a common symptom, and treatment must be thorough to prevent secondary infections.
  • Ear mites: These can cause infections deep in your pet’s ear canal. Discharge the color and consistency of coffee grounds is often a sign that ear mites need to be eradicated.
  • Ringworm: Actually not a worm! This deceptively named condition is a highly contagious fungal infection that causes hair loss, often in a ring shape. It’s doubly dangerous since humans can get it by touching infected pets.

Internal Parasites

  • Tapeworm: If you’re noticing what looks like dried rice in your pet’s bed, they likely have tapeworms. Those are segments of a tapeworm that have passed through your pet’s system. Also sometimes visible in your pet’s stools, tapeworms are flat in shape and live in the intestines of their host pets, sometimes leading to weight loss.
  • Hookworm: If your pet walks on or ingests earth contaminated with hookworm larvae, they can become infected. Many pets show no symptoms, but puppies or kittens may develop anemia or blood in their stool.
  • Roundworm: Similar to hookworms, these worms are picked up in the environment when your pet ingests the eggs. Also similarly, younger pets are more severely affected than healthy adult cats and dogs.
  • Whipworm: These, on the other hand, affect adult dogs more often than puppies. When they multiply, they can cause internal bleeding in the intestinal tract.
  • Heartworm: Unlike the other worms above, which often cause mild symptoms, heartworm infections in dogs are very serious and can be fatal, which is why prevention is imperative. Cats are less often impacted, as they are not natural hosts. Infected mosquitoes spread heartworm larvae in their bites, leading to cough, fatigue, and, if untreated, permanent damage to the heart, lungs, and arteries.

Antiparasitic medications – either internal or topical – can help get pets healthy if they have parasites, but as with many of our pets’ illnesses, the earlier treatment can begin, the better your pet’s prognosis will be. Better yet, prevention is still the best option.

If you’re concerned that your pet may have a parasite infection, contact us for an appointment. Our Union location is open seven days a week, 365 days a year, from 7 am – 11 pm, and our Westfield location has appointments Monday through Saturday, beginning at 8 am.

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