Parasites in dogs & cats
Most dogs or cats will contract some form of parasite during their lifetime, such as tapeworms and roundworms. It’s quite common and it’s rare to experience long-term complications from parasites, unless a pet is left untreated.
You can easily stay on top of parasites by monitoring changes in your pet’s behavior and appetite, and through regular trips to your veterinarian. To do this, make sure you familiarize yourself with these tips on what to look out for and how best to protect your pet.
Protect your pet and protect yourself
Our pets sit at the heart of the family, so we know you’ll want to make sure they stay healthy. If parasites are left untreated they can become life threatening to your pet. Internal parasites, such as worms, can cause death through heart failure or an intestinal blockage. Cat or dog parasites can also lead to other conditions such as high blood pressure, anemia, and severe weight loss.
Keeping your pet safe is important, but you should also be aware of other critters they might bring into your home and how this could impact you and the rest of your family. This is particularly important for families with young children, as they are often the ones who give our pets the most attention. You don’t need to ban pets from the family areas, but you should practice good personal hygiene and be extra vigilant looking for the signs and symptoms of an infestation.
Did you know?
- Some types of parasites in dogs and cats can spread to humans. This is called a Zoonotic disease and is especially a concern for people whose immune systems are compromised, such as young children, pregnant women, and the elderly.
- You don't need to get rid of your pet if you're pregnant, but you should be aware that cat feces can carry a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis — an infection that you can contract and pass on to your unborn-baby. The chance of contracting toxoplasmosis is low, but during the early stages of pregnancy it can cause miscarriage. You should avoid emptying your cat’s litter tray and you can also ask your vet to test your cat to see if they’ve been infected.
- Hunting dogs and cats are particularly at risk of contracting a parasite as they could ingest parasites hosted by their prey. If your pet brings home mice, small rodents and birds you need to have parasite control in place.
- Parasites carried by wildlife, such as raccoons and opossums, can be very dangerous to your pet. You can prevent visitors to your backyard by minimizing possible food sources, such as securing your trash cans and removing food you leave out for your own pet.
- It's rare for dogs and cats to share specific parasites as they tend to be species-specific. In the unlikely event that another species catches the “bug,” the contamination is usually short-lived, however it’s worth speaking to your veterinarian if you are concerned.
Things to look for
Make sure to familiarize yourself with these symptoms so you can spot an infestation as soon as possible. In some cases there may be no signs at all so attending regular check-ups with your vet is advised.
Itching, redness of the skin, discomfort, presence of fleas in the fur, flea "dirt" scattered on the skin
Irritated red patches of skin, presence of small, brown ticks. You should also look for symptoms of more serious illnesses, such as Lyme Disease, often carried by ticks
Head and neck scratching, head shaking, brown or black discharge in the ear
There are few symptoms at first with heartworm, but as it progresses, look for a cough, lethargy, a decreased appetite, and weight loss. More serious symptoms include a swollen belly and heart failure
Often there are no signs to show a hookworm infestation. In puppies, anemia and poor growth may be visible. In severe cases you may also find diarrhea with dark, tarry stools
Often there are no signs, but you can look out for diarrhea, poor growth, and a distended or swollen abdomen
Most infections have few signs, but you should look for poor absorption of food or diarrhea
There are no signs in a light infection. Heavy infection produces weight loss and diarrhea. Fresh blood may also appear in feces and anemia may be present
Top tips to prevent parasites from Dr. Sarah Nold
The most reliable way to prevent parasites is through a year-round control program, tailored to the needs of each specific pet. Species, breed, age, behavior and environment are all contributing factors to your pet’s level of risk. If you have several pets in your home their prevention should be reviewed independently and not blanket-applied across the household.
Whilst this is the most efficient way to prevent contamination, it’s by no means foolproof. You should familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms above, as well as these prevention tips, approved by Veterinarian Sarah Nold, DVM.
- Visit your veterinarian regularly and establish a year-round parasite control program that’s based on the risk factors specific to you and your pet.
- Your pet’s preventive will vary based on where you live and the likelihood of them coming into contact with specific parasites. For instance, your veterinarian may suggest that your pet has a very low chance of running into a whipworm or catching fleas, and provide an alternative option to a pet living elsewhere. For this reason it is important to tell your veterinarian if you will be traveling or moving so your parasite control program can be reviewed and altered if necessary.
- Over-the-counter products are not always safe or effective. Discuss the best products for your pet before you spend any money and ask your veterinarian what their favorite over-the-counter options are.
- Natural remedies do not work and can make your pet susceptible to more serious problems.
- Products should be not shared between species as dosage levels and susceptibility will differ.
- It’s important to see your vet as soon as you spot symptoms of a parasite to help your pet get treatment and prevent it spreading to other animals.
- You can also visit the Companion Animal Parasite Council to find out the prevalence of parasites in your area.