Unfortunately for pets and their people, parasites are here to stay. Fleas, heartworms, ticks, and intestinal worms are not only difficult and costly to treat, but can also cause serious health problems for dogs and cats.
The best way to avoid these hassles is by preventing parasite infestations and infections in the first place. This parasite prevention guide covers everything you need to know about protecting your pets against fleas, heartworms, and other common parasites.
Fleas are a common “ectoparasite”, which means they live on the outside of their host. Flea infestations can affect dogs, cats, and other mammals. These pesky parasites live everywhere we live, including our lawn, furniture, carpet, and yes, on our pets.
Many pets are exposed to fleas in outside environments like backyards, patios, dog parks, or walks around the neighborhood. Humans can even bring fleas into the home on their shoes or clothing without noticing!
Did you know a single female flea will lay up to 60 eggs a day, and up to 2000 in her lifetime? She can also consume up to 15 times her bodyweight in blood! Since fleas multiply so quickly, one flea turns into a flea infestation very rapidly.
Even though these infestations can be treated, it can be very difficult (and expensive) to completely eradicate fleas from your home, since flea eggs can survive for 2 to 3 months.
Besides being irritating parasites, fleas can negatively affect our pets in many ways by causing itching, hair loss, allergies, anemia, and skin infection. They can also transmit other parasites and diseases such as tapeworms and haemobartonella.
The key to preventing fleas is consistent administration of a safe flea preventative. Without consistent application, your pet and property will be susceptible to flea infestation.
Heartworms are a common internal parasite affecting dogs and cats. Transmitted by mosquitoes, heartworms live in the heart and blood vessels, which results in heartworm disease.
Clinical signs of progressing heartworm disease include persistent cough, reluctance to move or exercise, fatigue after only moderate exercise, reduced appetite and weight loss, and even sudden death.
While heartworm disease can be treated, treatment is expensive and requires hospitalization. The good news is that heartworm disease is 99% preventable! Compared to heartworm treatment, prevention is safe, easy, effective, and inexpensive.
There are a variety of options for preventing heartworm infection in both dogs and cats, including monthly chewables, topical products and semi-annual injections.
Heartworm prevention interrupts the development of heartworm larvae before they can grow into adult worms in the heart and cause disease. When administered properly on a timely and consistent schedule, heartworm infection can be prevented.
A Warning About Feline Heartworm Disease
Although heartworm disease is more common in dogs, prevention for cats is even more important. Currently there is no treatment for heartworms in cats!
Most infected cats will die from the development of even one heartworm – in fact, sudden death is often the first and only sign of heartworm disease.
Cats may also exhibit clinical signs that are very non-specific, mimicking many other feline diseases including vomiting, gagging, difficult or rapid breathing, lethargy and weight loss.
Signs associated with the first stage of heartworm disease are often mistaken for feline asthma or allergic bronchitis, when in fact they are actually due to a syndrome newly defined as Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD).
Indoor cats can be infected with heartworm disease just as easily as outdoor cats. Therefore it’s recommended that all cats be on heartworm prevention.
Ticks are external parasites that attach to your pet by inserting their mouthparts into your pet’s skin. After attaching, the tick begins to feed on your pet’s blood. Ticks can consume enough of your pet’s blood to cause a deficiency called anemia.
More importantly, ticks are capable of transmitting many debilitating diseases such as Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Ehrlichia. Many of the diseases ticks carry can also be transmitted to people.
How often you see ticks will depend on the region of the country in which you live, the time of year (tick activity varies in warm and cool weather), the habits of your pet, and how and when you use tick control products.
It is very difficult to prevent your pet’s exposure to ticks. Therefore, the best way to prevent ticks on your pet is with the regular use of tick prevention / control products.
4. Intestinal Parasites
Intestinal parasites are best prevented by keeping your pet on a regular Heartworm/Flea preventative that also contains anthelmintic. All pets should be regularly screened (annually or bi-annually) and dewormed (annually or bi-annually).
Roundworms are large worms that live in the intestines of puppies, kittens, dogs and cats, and can even be transmitted to humans (children are at the highest risk). They are transmitted through the environment (sniffing and licking fecal contaminated soil, grass, etc.); eating infected prey such as birds or rodents; through the placenta (to puppies); and through nursing (puppies and kittens). In pets, these parasites can cause coughing, dull/thin coat, vomiting, diarrhea, a pot-bellied appearance, and failure to gain weight.
Hookworms are very common microscopic worms that live in the intestines of puppies, kittens, dogs and cats, and can also be transmitted to humans. They are transmitted through the environment (eggs from fecal contaminated soil or grass can penetrate the skin, or pet ingests eggs during grooming its coat); eating infected prey such as rodents or insects; or through nursing. In pets, these parasites can cause anemia, diarrhea, dull/thin coat, skin problems, lethargy, and failure to gain weight.
Whipworms are intestinal parasites that live in the large intestine. They are transmitted through ingesting infected matter such as soil or fecal material from the environment. Once present, the eggs can remain viable for years. Clinical signs include bloody diarrhea, dehydration, anemia, and weight loss.
Tapeworms are transmitted by ingesting an infected flea. Tapeworms are diagnosed by seeing short, white, rice-like segments around the anus, or by seeing the eggs of the tapeworm on a fecal examination. Tapeworms are best prevented by keeping your pet on flea prevention year-round.
The Best Parasite Prevention Products for Dogs and Cats
Prevention is key when it comes to parasites, both internal and external. Heartworm / flea / tick prevention products are an important investment for your pet’s health and comfort, and choosing the right one can be a difficult process.
CityVet has done the hard part for you! Our veterinarians evaluate all parasite prevention products, including monthly chewables, topical products, and semi-annual injections, and can provide recommendations for you at your appointment.
Learn more about our preventative care plans for dogs, cats, puppies and kittens, or contact your local CityVet veterinarian today for recommendations.