Parasite Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment

parasite preventionWe believe that preventing pet parasites is essential to keeping your pets healthy and happy. Contracting parasites can happen to any pet, however, and the best way to ensure your pet’s safety is through preventive measures, regular screening, wellness checks, and ongoing vigilance for signs and symptoms.

What Are Parasites?

Parasites are organisms that live on (or inside) a host animal, such as a dog or cat, which usually get their nutrition from the body of the host.

How Does Pet Infection Occur?

Regardless of how clean your pet is and how carefully you care for him or her, it’s possible to acquire a parasite through methods such as:

  • Contact with other infected pets, feces, or bodily fluids
  • Walking your dog through wooded areas where parasites live
  • Drinking water from contaminated sources
  • A bite from an infected mosquito (heartworm)

Taking preventive measures and regularly screening your pet can prevent a parasitic infection.

Common Parasites

Parasites found in or on domestic dogs and cats can be internal or external, and the most common of these are:

Cat portaritExternal Parasites

  • Fleas
  • Ticks
  • Ear mites
  • Skin mites, such as those that cause demodectic mange

Internal Parasites

  • Heartworm, which lives in the heart and lungs
  • Intestinal worms, including hook worm, tape worm, round worm, whip worm, and coccidia
  • Giardia, which lives in the small intestine and feeds off the blood supply

Symptoms of Parasite Infestation

The initial signs of a parasitic infection may include lethargy, loss of appetite, pale gums resulting from blood loss, scratching of skin or ears, and general signs of listlessness. More specific symptoms include:

  • Skin irritation that results in “weeping” of the skin and a general odor (ticks, fleas, and skin mites)
  • Evidence of worms or eggs in feces (intestinal parasites)
  • Nausea, gas, diarrhea, and vomiting (giardia and other intestinal parasites)

In many cases, your pet will not develop any symptoms of a parasite infection, so it’s important to have her screened regularly to be certain.

Potential Complications

Parasite infestation can cause complications ranging from potentially fatal diseases such as heart failure (heartworm) and Lyme disease (ticks) through unpleasant allergic reactions and chronic skin irritations. If untreated, intestinal parasites can also be transmitted to humans through contact with people and household materials. If you see any symptoms of parasites in dogs or cats, contact us as soon as possible. 

Testing and Diagnosis

Regular screening is a reliable method of checking your pet for parasitic infections. Twice-yearly feces testing is useful for spotting any signs of intestinal worms, giardia, or heartworm, and your veterinarian will check for signs of ear mites or skin irritations during your pet’s annual wellness checkup. However, if you see any of the signs or symptoms of parasites, it’s best to bring your pet in for an examination as soon as possible to prevent the spread of the organisms. 

Treatment and Outlook

Treatment for most parasites is simple, provided you discover their presence early and before any complications arise. Internal parasites are usually treated with medication (such as dog heartworm treatment), while external parasites are eliminated with a topical product that destroys their life cycle. Any illnesses caused by the parasites, such as heartworm infection or Lyme disease, must be treated according to specific medical protocols. The outlook is positive if you follow your veterinarian’s recommendations.

Prevention Measures

Prevention is the best method of keeping your pets safe from parasites. All animals with access to the outdoors and other pets should receive topical parasite prevention preparations year-round. Some of the available products to provide parasite prevention in dogs and cats are:

Heartworm & Intestinal Parasite Prevention

*Please note that heartworm prevention is to be given monthly and for the life of your pet.

  • Interceptor: This is our recommended treatment because it is the same price as other products and has better intestinal parasite coverage (includes whipworms). Protection lasts 30 days, and you can buy this product from our hospital.
  • Heartgard Plus: (dogs) Prescription chewable beef-flavored treat that prevents heartworms and treats/controls intestinal parasites (roundworms & hookworms, not whipworms). Protection lasts for 30 days. Heartgard can be purchased through VetSource on our website.
  • Trifexis: (dogs) Prescription oral chewable beef-flavored tablet that prevents heartworms, treats and controls intestinal parasites (roundworms & hookworms, and whipworms), and kills fleas. Protection lasts for 30 days.
  • Advantage Multi Feline: (cats) Prescription topical liquid that kills adult fleas and treats flea infestations, treats and controls ear mites, treats and controls roundworms and hookworms, and prevents heartworm disease. Protection lasts for 30 days. 

Oral and Topical Prevention

*Please note there is no oral product currently on the market to prevent ticks.

  • Credelio: (dogs) kills fleas and ticks – contains Lotilaner in a small beef-flavored chewable tablet given by mouth once a month. Protection lasts for 30 days.
  • Easy Spot: (cats) kills fleas, ticks, and chewing lice – contains Fipronil, the same active ingredient as Frontline. Protection lasts for 30 days.
  • Parastar: (dogs) kills fleas, ticks, and chewing lice – contains Fipronil, the same active ingredient as Frontline. Protection lasts for 30 days.
  • Seresto Collar: (dogs or cats) Kills fleas, repels and kills ticks. Protection lasts for eight months. This collar is odorless, powder-less, and leaves no greasy residue! The collar should stay on during bathing and swimming and is a break-away collar if it gets caught on something accidentally.
  • Vectra 3D: (dogs) repels and kills fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, biting and sand flies, lice, and mites (excluding mange mites). Protection lasts for 30 days.
  • Comfortis: (prescription only) kills fleas and controls infestations. We carry limited quantities of this product for cats, but it can be ordered from VetSource. Protection lasts for 30 days.

You can also use over-the-counter products to keep your pet’s coat clean (such as flea and tick shampoo) and help prevent bacterial and fungal issues, but only the products listed above cover parasites.