As a pet owner, you’ve likely heard about parasites, especially during your pet’s wellness appointment. And, if you’ve dealt with a flea infestation, you’re all too familiar with parasites. But, did you know these pests can transmit a variety of diseases, in addition to being a nuisance? While these diseases can typically be treated, they can cause serious damage with lifelong effects. Learn more about the five most common parasites that infect pets, and what diseases they can transmit.
#1: Heartworms and pets
Heartworms are transmitted via an infected mosquito’s bite and reside in your pet’s major blood vessels surrounding their heart and lungs, and can also infiltrate your pet’s heart in severe cases. Heartworms prefer canine hosts, but can also infect cats, although a cat’s worm burden is usually much lower than in a dog. Both species can experience breathing problems, including coughing, wheezing, exercise intolerance, and lethargy. Cats can also vomit, have diarrhea, stagger while walking, or suddenly collapse or die. Dogs can develop congestive heart failure and a swollen, fluid-filled abdomen.
While heartworm disease is treatable in dogs—but not in cats—the treatment is difficult, and extremely uncomfortable. Over the course of several months, your dog will receive two or three injections inserted deep into their lumbar muscles, and must be kept severely exercise restricted to prevent adverse effects from the dying worms. Fortunately, heartworm disease is easily prevented, and preventives are available as chewable tablets, topical applications, or injections.
#2: Intestinal parasites and pets
A multitude of intestinal parasites can infect your pet, and possibly you and your family, including, most commonly, roundworms, tapeworms, whipworms, hookworms, giardia, and coccidia. While each parasite is slightly different in terms of preferred host and the resulting illness, they also have similarities. For example, all intestinal parasites are typically transmitted through the fecal-oral route, meaning your pet ingests contaminated fecal material by eating grass, licking their dirty paws, or actually eating another pet’s feces.
If your pet has an intestinal parasitic infection, they may show any of the following signs:
- Loose stool or diarrhea
- Foul-smelling stool
- Greasy or mucus-coated stool
- Blood in the stool
- Poor hair coat
- Failure to thrive
- Weight loss
- Pot-bellied appearance
In some cases, your pet may have an intestinal parasite infection without showing signs, or only intermittent illness.
#3: Mites and pets
Mites typically appear in pets as ear mites or mange mites. Ear mites are much more common in cats, but can also infect dogs. Ear mites cause intense itching and dark, crumbly debris develops in your pet’s ear. If your pets sleep together or groom each other, they can transmit ear mites.
Mange mites include demodectic mites and sarcoptic mites. Demodectic mange is not contagious, but can be itchy, and generally causes hair loss around the eyes, muzzle, and legs. Demodex mites naturally live on the skin, but can overwhelm the body if the pet’s immune system is compromised. Sarcoptic mange is much itchier, contagious, can be transmitted from pets to people, and causes hair loss, a skin rash, and scabs.
#4: Fleas and pets
Most pet owners are familiar with fleas, which are small pests that can cause massive problems. Fleas can survive for months in the environment, emerging from eggs and cocoons to attack your pet. If ingested, fleas can transmit tapeworms, and a heavy infestation can lead to anemia. Some pets are allergic to fleas, and will chew and scratch themselves raw if they are flea-infested. Eradicating your pet and your home of fleas is extremely difficult, but many types of flea preventives are available.
#5: Ticks and pets
Ticks are another external parasite that can cause serious health issues, despite their small size. Ticks can transmit many diseases to people and pets and, as their habitats are expanding, the number of tick-borne illness cases is rising. The most common tick-borne illnesses include Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but new tick species that cause new diseases are being discovered. Since ticks need to remain attached to your pet for a considerable period of time to transmit disease—up to 48 hours in the case of Lyme disease—check your furry pal thoroughly for ticks after being outdoors.
Tick-borne diseases are challenging to diagnose and treat, because your pet may not become ill for months, or their signs may wax and wane. Some tick-borne illness signs include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Bleeding and clotting issues
- Neurological signs
Despite treatment, tick-borne pathogens can linger in your pet’s body throughout their lifetime, flaring up and causing illness again when the immune system is taxed, which makes tick prevention crucial for your pet’s safety.
Parasites can cause serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses, but they can easily be prevented and treated with one of the many prevention products available. Protect your pet from parasitic diseases—contact our Fremont Animal Hospital team to discuss the best parasite preventive for your pet.
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