Many pet parents believe their dogs are safer from worms and parasites when the weather is cooler outside. The truth is that these hazards exist year-round, especially in mild, humid climates like central North Carolina. Some of these parasites and worms can even threaten your human loved ones.
Luckily, most parasite dangers can be avoided with a little preventive care. Fleas and ticks present the biggest health risks to your pets. These external parasites can be more than a nuisance. They can transmit different types of worms and even diseases to your pets. They are also a challenge to get rid of.
Types of Pet Parasites
You have most likely heard of heartworms and tapeworms, but worms come in many species that affect different parts of your pet babies’ precious bodies:
- Heartworms (heart)
- Hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, threadworms, and whipworms (intestines)
- Liver/blood flukes (bile ducts, gallbladder, and intestines)
- Lungworms (lungs)
- Stomach worms (stomach)
Worms are transmitted to dogs and cats when they eat something containing their eggs or larvae. These include beetles, fleas, grubs, mosquitoes, slugs, or snails. Other common sources include the dead bodies and stools of infected animals such as mice, squirrels, rats, and rabbits.
A handful of worms are transmitted through simple skin to skin contact such as hookworms and threadworms.
Parasites present risks to more than just the furry members of your family. For example, some roundworms and tapeworms can be transmitted to humans. This often happens when hands become dirty with soil that contains eggs. The hands are then placed on or around the mouth, landing in the digestive tract. Rarely, these types of infections can be dangerous to humans, causing liver damage or even blindness.
While fleas lead the pack of external parasites that threaten the health of your pets, ticks present risks, as well. Tick-borne diseases that can affect dogs, cats, and people include Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. These diseases can cause serious symptoms in pets, such as fever, joint pain or lameness, and loss of appetite. These conditions may also lead to major disorders such as kidney or heart problems.
Identifying Tapeworms and Other Parasites
Dogs and cats often bite or scratch themselves when they itch. If a dog or cat accidentally ingests an infected flea during this process, the flea can release tapeworm eggs into the animal’s body.
Tapeworms can cause significant irritation as they grow inside your pet’s intestine. In extreme cases, they may lead to intestinal blockage, as they can grow several feet long. Common symptoms affect the digestive tract, such as loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and irritation of the hind quarters.
You may suspect a problem when you see segments of the worms on your pet’s behind or in their stool or bedding. These segments often look like rice grains or cucumber seeds.
There are many different types of tapeworms. Each species moves through our environment using fleas. The simplest way to prevent these infections is to prevent fleas on your fur baby. Your veterinarian can help you select a product that best fits your furry friend, climate, and lifestyle. And fortunately, effective products exist—known as “dewormers”—to kill tapeworm infections that have already taken hold.
Parasite Prevention and Treatment
You can protect your entire family by preventing contact with dangerous parasites by implementing a preventive parasite treatment plan. Here are few tips to get you started:
- Use veterinarian-recommended products to prevent fleas and ticks on your pet
- Prevent your pet from eating feces or animal remains
- Keep your environment clean (such as picking up and disposing of pet feces regularly, hand washing, and disinfecting affected areas)
- Remove ticks from your furry pal right away
- Contact your veterinarian if you notice fleas, worms, or worm segments or if your furry companion shows signs of infection
Veterinarians have many tools to help identify the source of your furry friend’s woes. When worms are suspected, they often use fecal examinations to look for larvae or eggs under a microscope. Other common tools include physical examinations and blood work.
After the problem has been diagnosed, your veterinarian will choose the right treatment to put your dog back on the road to good health. The type and length of treatment depends on the parasite that has invaded your pet’s body. However, common traditional treatments include shampoos, antibiotics, and steroids.
With a vigilant eye and loving preventive care, you can ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life. To learn more about parasite prevention and other pet health information read our comprehensive guide on pet health here.