Parasites are a constant threat to pets, no matter their lifestyle or where they live. Puppies and kittens are common parasite targets, but pets can contract them at any age. Family Veterinary Care of Oakdale shares information about the most common pet parasites and how to keep pets and families safe from parasite-related illnesses.

Fleas in pets

Fleas are small, winged insects that live on your pet’s skin and fur, regularly biting and feeding on your pet’s blood. While fleas are large enough to see with the naked eye, they move quickly, and many pet owners find detection difficult. Running a fine-toothed comb through the fur on your pet’s back may reveal fleas or feces, which look like dirt specks, but turn red-brown when moistened on a paper towel. Flea feces are commonly called “flea dirt,” because of their characteristic appearance.

Fleas can transmit several diseases to dogs, cats, and people, most notably cat scratch fever and tapeworms. While uncommon, some fleas carry more serious diseases, such as murine typhus or the plague (yes—THE plague). Their bites can also trigger a severe allergy that causes intense scratching and hair loss. Preventing fleas is easier than eliminating an existing infestation because the eggs, larvae, and pupae can remain active in the environment for months. 

Ticks in pets

Ticks live freely outdoors, but must feed on an animal’s blood to mate and molt. Ticks are small enough that most pets—and people—fail to notice until they have been attached for several hours and become engorged with blood. While attached, ticks can spread serious and life-threatening diseases, including Lyme disease in dogs and cytauxzoonosis in cats. Ticks on pets can usually be easily spotted or felt, and should be removed immediately to reduce the chances of disease spread. Our team can demonstrate proper tick removal techniques.

Intestinal parasites in pets

Because intestinal worms have a unique life cycle, nearly all puppies and kittens have worms when they are born. Babies with heavy worm infestations have a pot-bellied appearance and can suffer severe blood loss, diarrhea, and sometimes death. Puppies and kittens must be dewormed every few weeks after birth, during which time some will pass dead worms in their stool. 

Roundworms, hookworms, giardia, and coccidia, the most common intestinal parasites in dogs and cats, affect not only puppies, but also adult pets. The worms can pass eggs or other infective materials through an infected pet’s feces and into soil or water, where they are ingested by passing pets, or people. People who ingest roundworm eggs can become seriously ill, so routine deworming is extremely important for households with children.

Heartworms in pets

Mosquitoes are lovely pests that transmit heartworms from one pet to another after a short developmental period. The heartworms reside in the pet’s blood vessels in and around the heart and lungs, where they can grow up to a foot long and reproduce in massive numbers. Heartworm infection is undetectable in most pets for months or years until the heart begins to enlarge or fail, causing coughing, exercise intolerance, fluid retention, and sudden death in some cases. Routine heartworm testing and prevention can help prevent the devastating damage these worms can cause.

Pet parasite testing, treatment, and prevention

While astute pet owners may be able to identify fleas and ticks, other parasites easily fly under the radar and may go undetected for weeks, months, or years. The best way to identify your pet’s parasite infestation is an annual veterinary wellness examination with routine parasite screening tests that may include:

  • Fecal flotation — To identify microscopic parasite eggs or protozoa in your pet’s stool
  • Heartworm test — Taking a blood sample to detect adult female heartworm antigens in dogs
  • Tick-borne disease test — Taking a blood sample to detect exposure to common tick-borne diseases

Most intestinal parasites are easily treated with medications, followed by testing to confirm the infection is gone. Other parasites are best controlled using monthly oral or topical medications designed to kill the parasites or interrupt their life cycles. Most pets require one product for fleas and ticks and another for heartworms and intestinal worms. Parasite preventives are most effective when given year-round with no breaks.

Family Veterinary Care of Oakdale can help you assess your pet’s parasite risk and choose the best products for their needs and lifestyle. Contact our team to schedule your pet’s next wellness visit, parasite screening, and consultation to discuss additional control strategies that will keep the entire family safe.