At some point in their lives, almost every dog and cat will have some infection or infestation with an internal or external parasite. Because it is almost certain that your family pet will encounter an invader, it is important you know more about these pesky creatures. It is also critical that you have a relationship with a veterinarian that you know and trust to give you the very best advice for your particular pet. Parasite prevalence and the risks of infection are very different at different life stages of your pet and vary based on where you live. You and your pet deserve very specific advice from that veterinarian you both know!
A Few Things to Know about Parasites
The most common internal parasites our pets will encounter in their life are worms and other, smaller invaders. The list of worms includes roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, and heartworms. All worms are treatable and heartworms are preventable. The most common intestinal worms (roundworm, hookworm, and tapeworm) are also considered “zoonotic” or transmissible to people. But don’t be alarmed— it is relatively difficult to catch worms from your pet if you use basic and simple hygiene when handling your pet’s feces. Tapeworms are most likely to infect children if they ingest the fleas that are torturing your pet.
The most common external parasites our pets will encounter in their life are fleas and ticks. Other skin parasites are possible, but thank-goodness, less likely. Just like the zoonotic potential of internal parasites, scabies can cause a mild or temporary symptoms in people as well. In regions of the country with large numbers of ticks, there is also a risk that our pets could bring home ticks carrying infectious diseases. This is not truly a zoonotic problem, but instead a “vector-borne disease” issue and a subject for another blog post!
All internal parasites live in the gastrointestinal system except heartworms. All external parasites live on the skin.
- Ear mites
What We Can Do About Pesky Parasites
I might say that “in the old days” controlling all these parasites was a real chore. As a profession, the veterinary industry did not have a huge control or prevention measures. We sure do now, and it seems that almost every year, another better, safer, and less-side-effect-causing preventative or treatment is available for pet owners. There are three great ways to get more information about the best parasite treatments or preventatives for your specific pet:
- Talk to a veterinarian you know and love! They can give you specific advice for your pet based on their risk and location.
- Visit Trupanion’s parasite resource page for a great overview of invaders and what to look for.
- Check out the Companion Animal Parasite Council. This site has fantastic up-to-date information on a number of parasites.
- Research more on Veterinary Partner especially reading the recent article “EPA and FDA Flea Products.”