Pet Care : dogs
Spring Parasites are Here!
Fleas and ticks arrive with the thawing of the ground. These parasites, especially fleas, are a problem for all pets, indoors and out. Fleas can hitch a ride on your socks or shoes into the house, where they quickly move to your beloved pet. Most dogs spend at least some time outdoors, and fleas hop on to this moving source of dinner! Adult fleas spend all of their time on a living host (usually a dog or cat). They bite their host and blood provides them with all the nutrition they need. Fleas crawl around on your pet, eating as they go. Pets are very itchy because of the fleas crawling around, as well as because of the bite of the flea. Flea saliva is an antigen that causes an allergic reaction in some animals. “Flea dirt” is seen in the hair coat of a dog or cat that has any number of fleas. Flea dirt is actually flea feces which is actually digested blood. That's why the water turns red if you bathe a dog or cat that has a flea infestation. If a flea infestation is allowed to get out of control, anemia and even death can result. This is especially a problem in young puppies and kittens. Fleas won't usually bite humans, but they will if they don't have anyone else to chew on!! There are over 2000 species of fleas. The most common type in North America is the cat flea (infests dogs and cats both). (Merial.com)
Ticks are especially nasty parasites. There are several species varying by geographical location. Ticks attach by burrowing their mouthparts into the skin, injecting their saliva that contains an anticoagulant, and sucking away! Some pets have severe reactions to tick bites, with bruising and ulceration of the skin. Ticks carry several different diseases, most of which can be transmitted to humans as well as pets. Lyme disease is the one that most people are familiar with. Lyme disease started in Lyme, Connecticut, hence the name. It was limited to ticks in the New England area, but has spread further each year. There is a vaccine for dogs only. Talk to your veterinarian about whether or not your dog should be vaccinated. Ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and cytauxzoonosis are several diseases all spread by ticks. Cytauxzoonosis is a severe disease affecting cats that are bitten by an infected tick. It originated in the bobcat population. Treatment can cause severe illness and some cats, even with aggressive care, don't survive. Prevention of the attachment of ticks is important to preventing transmission of these diseases.
Mosquitoes have been in the news lately because of the spread of West Nile virus. Mosquitoes have been an important source of disease prior to this recent epidemic. Heartworm disease is spread by mosquitoes. Dogs and cats are both affected by heartworm disease, which can be prevented by using a monthly preventative medication. Mosquitoes pass the infection (larvae) from an infected host to an unprotected host. The larvae circulate in the blood stream and grow to adults. They live in the pulmonary artery and reproduce. If undiagnosed and untreated, the adult worms can eventually block the blood flow and cause congestive heart failure and death. West Nile virus infection is primarily a problem in birds, horses, and people. A very small number of cases have been diagnosed in dogs. It is important to remove potential mosquito breeding grounds from your yard. These include birdbaths, buckets of water, and puddles of standing water. Mosquito repellants are effective for people and a new veterinary product is now available for dogs.
Finally, let's talk about intestinal parasites. These little critters are common in dogs and cats. Most puppies and kittens have roundworms. The adults look like spaghetti strands. At your puppy or kitten's first veterinary visit, a dewormer will probably be administered to get rid of these parasites. They are relatively harmless, but sometimes can be present in such large numbers that absorption of nutrients from the gastrointestinal tract is impaired. A more invasive parasite is the hookworm. Hookworms burrow into the wall of the intestine and hold on with sharp teeth. They cause intestinal bleeding in addition to ingesting the blood. Hookworms can cause severe illness. The larval form can infect humans, usually infecting the skin or the eye. Whipworms are another parasite that can cause severe illness. The eggs are unique in appearance and are shed only intermittently. This makes whipworm infestation difficult to diagnose. Tapeworms are the final parasite that we will discuss. Tapeworms are transmitted to dogs and cats by fleas or by ingestion of infected rodents or rabbits. Tapeworm segments are shed in the feces and often get caught in the hair under the tail. They look like flattened grains of rice and can sometimes be seen wiggling. Contrary to the beliefs of some, humans do not get pinworms from animals! Pinworms are species specific, meaning that they do not infect multiple species of mammals.
Parasites are a nuisance but can also cause severe illness. Protect your pets and yourself from these pests.
Please note that this information does not replace professional veterinary care. It is solely for educational purposes. Your pet's medical condition should be evaluated by a veterinarian before any medical decisions are implemented. If there is a potentially life-threatening emergency involving your pet, take your pet to a veterinarian or veterinary facility immediately.