Parasites

Fleas

Overview

Fleas are ectoparasites that live their adult lives on their host. They appear like brown sesame seeds quickly moving underneath your pet’s hair coat.

Fleas can cause allergies, skin irritations, and blood loss in dogs and cats. They can also transmit tapeworms and disease. Death in young pets may occur if parasite loads are heavy enough.

In our area of the country, fleas are mainly a concern spring through fall.

Possible Symptoms

  • fleas and/or flea dirt
  • compulsive biting and chewing
  • licking, primarily the back half of the body
  • hair loss and/or sores

Prevention & Treatment

  • We have various products available to help protect your pet according to their individual needs.
  • We give medication if your pet has fleas. Since fleas can easily be spread, you also want to spray and clean areas your animal was in contact with. If you do not have the time for this or if you have a heavy infestation of fleas, you will want to contact an exterminator.

Ticks

Overview

Ticks are ectoparasites that have four life-stages. The immature ticks feed on small, mostly wild animals. The adult ticks are the ones that we worry will feed on our blood and our pet’s blood.

Ticks can transmit disease, cause allergies, skin irritations, and blood loss. A disease in the Midwest, Lyme Disease, is transmitted by the deer tick.

In our area of the country, ticks are mainly a concern spring through fall.

Symptoms

  • ticks crawling or feeding on skin
  • irritation caused by ticks may lead to “hot spots” on dogs

Prevention & Treatment

  • We have various products available to help protect your pet according to their individual needs.
  • Remove ticks by grasping the tick close to the skin with a fine-pointed tweezers. Gently pull free. Hot matches, vaseline, or other materials fail to effectively detach ticks.
  • Prompt removal of ticks will reduce disease transmission, allergies and skin irritations.

Ear Mites

Overview

Ear mites are external parasites that live in and around the ears. They appear like moving white dots when seen through a microscopic device. They are especially common in young dogs and cats, but animals at any age can get them. The ears become hypersensitive to the ear mites and consequently, intense irritation results.

Possible Symptoms

  • excessive itching and shaking of the head
  • thick brown or black crust in the ears

Treatment

  • We use an otoscope or ear swabs and a microscope to look for ear mites. If they are present, we will show you how to perform a thorough ear cleaning and provide medication.

Demodectic Mange Mites

Overview

Demodectic mites are normally found in small numbers in the hair follicles and sebaceous glands of animals. They can only be seen with a microscope. Problems begin when mite numbers increase due to a problem with the immune system.

These mites can cause localized or generalized demodectic mange. This inflammatory parasitic disease affects dogs and rarely cats.

Possible Symptoms

  • red lesions
  • patches of hair loss, most commonly around the face and also on trunk and legs
  • secondary bacterial infections may result if hair follicles become filled with mites

Treatment

  • Most cases will resolve without treatment.
  • We do a skin scraping and look for mites under a microscope.
  • If the demodex infection is localized, many times we will not treat the infection as most of the infections will resolve on their own.
  • If demodectic mange is in the generalized form we will usually treat with oral medication.

Sarcoptic Mange Mites

Overview

After mating on top of the skin, sarcoptic mites bury under the top layer of skin. Secretions while under the skin cause the irritation experienced by the host.

These mites can cause sarcoptic mange, also known as scabies. This disease is common in all ages of dogs, and very rarely seen in cats. Our clinic seldom sees sarcoptic mange.

Scabies are passed on by physical contact. They are very contagious; humans must be cautious!

Possible Symptoms

  • non-seasonal, intense itching
  • hair loss and/or crust on ears
  • hair loss and/or redness on elbows, hocks, chest, or abdomen

Treatment

  • We do a skin scraping and look for the presence of scabies under the microscope. Medication will be given if they are present.

Heartworm

Overview

Heartworm infects a variety of species worldwide (some areas are more at risk than others). The worms are passed via mosquitoes. The mosquito ingests heartworm larvae from an infected animal and then passes the worms on to a new host when she punctures the host’s skin to feed.

The larvae travel to the heart, where they mature and reach from 17-27 cm long. The worms live in the vessels going to the lungs, and blockage may occur. Heavy loads damage the heart and lungs and may lead to death.

In dogs, the degree of disease depends on the number of worms, duration of infection, and host response.

Possible Symptoms

  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing
  • lethargy
  • exercise intolerance
  • Heartworm symptoms are similar for cats and dogs, except cats rarely show the clinical signs until they are in a critically advanced stage.

Prevention & Treatment

  • It is MUCH easier to prevent heartworm disease than to treat it.
  • It is almost 100% preventable if preventative medication is followed correctly.
  • It takes approximately six months for your pet’s body to react after he has been bitten by an infected mosquito. This is why we test for the presence of heartworm in the spring (mid-March to the beginning of June). If the test comes back negative, preventative medication is given. We recommend that the once a month preventative chewable be given once a month for six months, June through November.
  • Treatment in dogs is possible, but the procedures can be risky and the process long. At present, there is no safe treatment for cats.

Intestinal Worms

Overview

Roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, and whipworms can cause serious problems. If parasite loads are high enough, intestinal blockage may occur, leading to death in young puppies and kittens.

Roundworms (cats and kittens, dogs and puppies) hatch in the stomach and mature in the small intestines. Infected mothers can transmit worms to their offspring in utero or in their milk. Animals, including humans, can also get infected when ingesting worm eggs. Occasionally the hatched larvae will not travel to the intestine, but rather get lost and travel to other body parts, causing health complications. For example, if the larvae migrated to the eye, blindness may occur. This is why washing your hands after handling young pets is important! Also be careful around litter boxes and possibly contaminated soil, plant life, and sandboxes.

Tapeworms are segmented worms that live in the intestine. When the segments mature, they break off and are found in the feces (looking like grains of white rice). Animals become infected by consuming rodents or by ingesting fleas. Animals cannot get tapeworms by ingesting the segments.

Hookworms and whipworms are not very common in the northern part of the U.S. , but occasionally their eggs are found in fecal analysis.

Possible Symptoms

  • bloated abdomen
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite

Treatment

  • Most pets are born with roundworms, and so we routinely deworm all puppies and kittens several times. If there is a heavy load of parasites, we may recommend additional doses of deworming medication. A stool sample should be brought in one month after the last dose of dewormer is given.
  • We also recommend bringing in a stool sample annually to check for intestinal worms as well as other microscopic parasites.

Giardia

Overview

Giardia is a protozoan parasite that infects the gastrointestinal tract of animals, which includes humans. The protozoan has two life stages; the free-swimming stage which occurs inside the body of the host, where it reproduces and then turns into the cyst stage. The cysts are passed out of the body via feces, and when another animal ingests contaminated food or water, the cycle continues.

Giardia can be life threatening in malnourished and stressed puppies and kittens due to the large amount of fluid loss through diarrhea.

Possible Symptoms

  • acute to chronic soft and sometimes bloody diarrhea
  • gas
  • weight loss
  • lethargy

Treatment

  • We do a fecal analysis to check for giardia, and if it is present we give an oral medication.
  • Whether or not your pet has symptoms, we recommend bringing in a stool sample once a year to check for intestinal parasites.

Coccidia

Overview

Coccidia is a general term for several single-celled parasites. The Isospora genus that cause coccidiosis in dogs and cats is host-specific, and so humans cannot get sick if their pet is infected (However, Toxoplasmosa and Crytosporidium genera CAN be spread from pet to human).

A dog or cat gets coccidia by ingesting the Isospora oocysts found in an infected rodent, bird, or through contaminated feces. It is most severe in young puppies and kittens and can be life-threatening due to the large amount of fluid lost through diarrhea.

Possible Symptoms

  • watery, sometimes bloody diarrhea
  • weakness

Treatment

  • We do a fecal analysis to check for coccidia, and if it is present we give an oral medication. This medication only inhibits coccidial reproduction, the organisms themselves can only be killed by your pet’s immune system.
  • If the animal is severely dehydrated, we may need to give fluids.
  • ***Whether or not your pet has symptoms, we recommend bringing in a stool sample once a year to check for intestinal parasites.

Toxoplasma

Overview

Toxoplasma gondii is a single-celled coccidian parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. We do not see these cases often.

The definitive hosts are felids, and other mammals (including humans) are the intermediate hosts. Infection rarely results in symptoms in a cat but it does pose a serious threat to humans, especially pregnant mothers and the immune compromised.

Cats acquire Toxoplasma by ingesting infected birds, mice, or undercooked meat. The parasites spread from organ to organ via the cat’s blood or lymph.

It is not likely humans get Toxoplasma by direct contact with a cat but rather through contact with the feces. Changing the litter daily, covering sandboxes, and washing your hands after coming into contact with your cat or his belongings are ways to prevent getting toxoplasmosis.

The most common route of infection of pregnant women is through contact with uncooked infected meat. Contact can be made either by handling meat then handling other food that will not be cooked, like salads, or just by not cooking our meat enough.

If you are pregnant, take extra precautions to wash your hands after contact with your cat, cat feces and especially uncooked meat.

Possible Symptoms

  • lethargy
  • weight loss
  • eye problems
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • Keep in mind that cats rarely show symptoms of having Toxoplasmosa.
  • Treatment
  • We do a fecal analysis or blood tests and then give the appropriate medication.
  • ***Whether or not your pet has symptoms, we recommend bringing in a stool sample once a year to check for intestinal parasites.

***Just because your pet has some (or all) of the symptoms, it does not mean he has that particular parasite. However, the symptoms show he has departed from health, and so he should visit a veterinarian.

***TELL YOUR VETERINARIAN if you have attempted any parasite remedies, since it could affect your veterinarian’s treatment plan. Make sure to follow label instructions exactly and be careful when administering medication. IF YOU ARE TREATING A CAT, DO NOT USE INSECTICIDES DESIGNED FOR ANY OTHER ANIMAL BESIDES A CAT; THE RESULTS COULD BE LETHAL. It is best to consult professional help if you think your pet has a parasite problem. They will be able to correctly diagnose the problem and choose products that will most effectively and safely treat your pet.

The material on this website is intended to give clients some ideas on how to care best for their pets. It is NOT intended to take the place of visiting an animal hospital. Remember, your animal hospital has well-trained staff with a veterinary background and personal experience necessary to answer any question you may have. Your pet is unique, and only when you bring him to your veterinarian will you know what behavior strategies, immunizations, and treatments will be best for him.