Ticks , Fleas and Worms – Oh My!
Parasites are organisms that live in or on your pet and feed off of your pet's own nutritional supply.
- External Parasites (such as fleas, ticks and mites) live on or in the skin.
- Internal Parasites (often referred to as "worms") live in the intestinal tract or other body organ. A fecal test can identify a large number of the internal parasites we commonly see.
There are many safe and effective products to prevent and treat parasites, which our staff can discuss with you during your visit.
Remember that some products that are safe for dogs can be toxic or even fatal to cats, such as Advantix, Vectra and any product containing permethrin. For dogs, a vaccine for the tick-borne infection Lyme disease is available, and we can discuss its use with you at your pet's visit.
Common External Parasites
Fleas and Ticks
In addition to causing skin irritation, fleas and ticks can both carry other more serious diseases which they can pass on to your pet. However, managing fleas and ticks is easy to do. There are many safe and effective products available which our staff can discuss with you during your visit.
Remember that some products that are safe for dogs can be toxic or even fatal to cats, such as Advantix, Vectra and any product containing permethrin. For dogs, a vaccine for the tick-borne infection Lyme Disease is available, and we can discuss its use with you at your pet's visit.
Common Internal Parasites
- Heartworm is a mosquito-born disease affecting both dogs and cats. Adult heartworms reside in the heart and surrounding vessels, and a blood test is required to detect their presence.
Prevention is very important for dogs, because once they get heartworm disease the treatment is expensive and has risks. There is currently no treatment for heartworm in cats, so year-round prevention using veterinarian prescribed medication is very important for all dogs and outdoor cats.
- Roundworms are intestinal parasites affecting dogs and cats. The worm's eggs are shed in your pet's feces, posing a health risk to you and your family. If ingested, roundworm larvae can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss, but animals can also show no symptoms.
In humans, the larvae can also migrate to other organs, including the eye, causing severe problems especially in children. A fecal test can determine if roundworms are a problem. Many heartworm prevention products administered monthly to dogs also protect against roundworms.
Outdoor cats should be dewormed on a regular basis with either a topical or broad-spectrum oral medication.
- Hookworm is much more commonly seen in dogs than in cats. The larva lives in the environment and can infect your pet in several ways. One way is to penetrate the skin directly, the other is to be present in soil that is licked and swallowed by the animal as it cleans itself.
Humans, especially young children, can also be infected by hookworms. Hookworms also cause gastrointestinal signs as well as attaching to the walls of the intestines and ingesting the blood of their hosts, making this a potentially lethal infection for growing young puppies.
Many heartworm prevention products administered monthly to dogs also protect against hookworms so if used routinely year round, this can help prevent infection.
- Whipworms are another parasite much more commonly seen in dogs than cats. The animal is infected by consuming the parasite’s egg, usually during grooming. The maturation process once inside the host is very long, which is why treatment for whipworms is often repeated multiple times to ensure that the infection is cleared.
The eggs can also exist in the environment for a long time which makes preventing re-infection a challenge. And because the female worms only lay eggs periodically while inside the host, false negative fecal tests often occur. It is therefore common to deworm for whipworms if the symptoms are suggestive of infection, even if the fecal test is negative.
There are several medications which are effective against whipworms.
- Tapeworms are another common parasite of dogs and cats. Depending on the type of tapeworm, it is transmitted either by a dog or cat that has eaten a flea infected with the Dipylidium species of tapeworm or from eating other animals infected with the Taenia species of tapeworm.
They do not usually cause signs of disease in otherwise healthy animals but in rare cases, can cause diarrhea and/or vomiting and weight loss.
Tapeworms are easily treated with oral or topical dewormers and may need repeated treatment if the animal re-infects itself, especially when fleas are present.
- Coccidia is a parasite found primarily in young animals that causes mild diarrhea. It is transmitted orally, through infected feces. Coccidia are single-celled organisms and not worms; they are also not visible to the naked eye.
Coccidia cannot be treated by other dewormers, but are treated with a sulfa-based antibiotic and the course of treatment can vary depending on the severity of the infection.
- Toxoplasmosis is a disease of cats caused by a protozoan organism called Toxoplasma gondii. The infective egg (called an "oocyst") is found in the animal's feces.
It poses a risk to pregnant women depending on the stage of pregnancy; it can cause abortions, stillborn births or severe birth defects. Because of this risk, it is recommended that pregnant women not handle the cat’s litter box to avoid any potential exposure.