Parasite Prevention and Treatment
Visible parasites are pretty disturbing – no one wants to see a squirming worm in their dog’s poop, or a flea jumping around on their cat.
But did you know there are parasites you may not even see?
Regular parasite screening and prevention can help keep your pet from having to deal with the health effects of unwanted hitch-hikers.
Fleas are the most familiar of these. You can see them crawling around at the base of the hairs, and then seeming to disappear as they jump and you lose sight of them. But did you know that the fleas you see are just the “tip of the iceberg”? Adult fleas make up only 5% of the population of fleas in an infestation. The rest are eggs, larvae and pupae that are in the environment (ie in your house, wherever your pet may have eggs falling off it!) The pupae are the “time capsule” stage – they can stay dormant for months waiting for the opportunity to hatch and latch onto your pet for a meal.
So are fleas just creepy and annoying? No, not just… they can cause significant health problems:
- Flea Allergic Dermatitis – if the pet develops an allergy to flea bites, the bites can be horribly itchy and turn into very bad skin infections.
- Flea anemia – fleas suck blood! If there are enough of them, they can remove enough blood to cause a real problem.
- Tapeworms – fleas can carry the larvae for a tapeworm called Dypilidium. When pets scratch at their fleas by chewing, they swallow the fleas and get the tapeworms growing in their guts.
- Blood parasite for cats – fleas can suck up a blood parasite called Mycoplasma hemofelis from an infected cat, and then give it to another cat when it bites. This parasite sticks itself to the surface of red blood cells, causing the immune system to attack and burst the blood cells.
Ticks are another type of blood-sucker – they don’t infest your home like fleas do, they are out in the grass and brush “questing”, waving their legs and waiting for a warm body to come by that they can latch onto to feed. They can suck blood infections out of one host, and then pass them on to the next host they feed from.
- Lyme disease – this is caused by a tick-borne bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. The Lyme disease bacteria can never be completely cleared from the host it infects. It can cause years of joint pain, and can produce kidney failure.
- Anaplasma – this is a type of bacteria that can infect the white blood cells, or the platelets. Platelets are responsible for making blood clot to patch a break in a blood vessel; anaplasmosis messes that up and so can cause bleeding disorders.
- Ehrlichia – this type of bacteria grows in white blood cells, and can end up suppressing the bone marrow’s ability to make any of its cell lines: white blood cells, red blood cells or platelets.
Mites are too small to see. The type of mites that are contagious ie picked up from another infected animal are called Sarcoptes – also known as Scabies. These guys burrow their tunnels through the skin layers, causing intense itching and a lot of skin infection.
There is another type of mite that can cause problems, called Demodex. These are not picked up from another animal- they are mites that naturally live down in hair follicles. They become a problem only if the pet’s immune system fails to keep their numbers in check, and lets them grow out of control.
Heartworm is the most devastating of these. It is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito; and ALL pets, even “indoor pets”, have the chance to get one mosquito bite. In dogs, the worms grow to spaghetti-size in the chambers of the heart and great vessels of the lungs, causing heart failure. In cats, the worms cause chronic inflammation in the vessels of the lungs, producing asthma-like symptoms.
- Roundworms vary in size from thread-like to spaghetti-sized. If there are a lot of them in the pet’s digestive system, they can interfere with the ability to digest and absorb food. Even small numbers are a concern, though, because they can be transmitted to children. Inside a child, the worms do not stay in the intestines like they would in a dog – they start migrating through tissues such as organs (visceral larval migrans) or the eyeball (ocular larval migrans).
- Hookworms are bloodsuckers – they latch on to the inside wall of the dog’s intestine to suck nutrients. They can cause significant blood loss, and a lot of damage and inflammation to the intestinal lining. The dog passes the hookworm eggs in the stool – and once those eggs hatch into larvae, those larvae may burrow into skin. You don’t want to walk barefoot anywhere a dog with hookworms passed a poop!
- Whipworms look like a needle and thread for a reason – the way they work is to “sew” themselves into the lining of the large bowel, to suck blood and fluids from their host.
Parasite prevention involves giving regular doses of a parasite control product to prevent any of these parasites from getting a chance to establish themselves in the host, or to spread disease.
Ask us about which parasite prevention program is most suitable for your particular pet!