Five Essential Steps for Keeping Your Pet Parasite Free
You want your pet to be healthy and happy. Internal and external parasites can threaten pet health and comfort in many ways, ranging from minor irritation and discomfort to debilitating, life-threatening diseases. That’s why it’s important to protect your pet against parasites, including fleas, ticks, heartworms, roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, Giardia and coccidia.
Preventing parasites is easier and less expensive than treating your pet once infection or infestation has occurred. And it’s safer for your family to have a parasite-free companion, since some parasites can be passed from pets to people. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, year-round prevention is the best way to control the parasites that pester dogs and cats most.
Keeping your pet parasite-free isn’t complicated. In fact, you’re probably already protecting against multiple parasites if you give your dog or cat monthly heartworm-prevention medication and treat for fleas and ticks. Here are five steps you can take to ensure you’re doing all you can to protect your four-legged friend.
1. Consult your veterinarian
Ask your veterinarian which parasites are a problem for dogs and cats in your area. Depending on where you live and your pet’s lifestyle, some parasites may pose a low risk while others may require year-round prevention. Your veterinarian can tell you which parasites are a real threat, explain how they can be transmitted to your pet (and you!) and prescribe appropriate preventive products.
2. Watch for signs of parasites
All dogs and cats are at risk for parasites, but it isn’t always easy to tell if your pet has them. External parasites like fleas and ticks can be easily spotted if you know what to look for and where to look. Often you can tell your pet has fleas because they can cause scratching, chewing at the skin, red bumps and hair loss.
Knowing if your dog or cat has internal parasites like heartworms, roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, Giardia or coccidia is tougher for pet owners and requires more than watching for illness or behavioral changes. Adult intestinal parasites aren’t always seen in stool, and both immature and adult heartworms are found in blood. Sometimes parasite eggs or larvae hide quietly in the intestinal wall until activated by stress. Internal parasites may cause diarrhea, vomiting, obstruction (a blockage in the intestines), lethargy, poor general appearance and weight loss. Kittens and puppies with internal parasites often have a potbellied appearance. These signs are considered nonspecific, meaning they occur during other diseases, so routine testing for and prevention of internal parasites is truly important. And speaking of testing…
3. Have your veterinarian perform routine fecal examinations
Every year — or every three to six months for some pets — your veterinarian will ask you to bring a fresh stool sample for parasite screening. By microscopically examining stool, your veterinarian can determine if your pet harbors intestinal parasites and if so, which ones. An appropriate medication can then be prescribed.
4. Give your pet preventive medications
Easy-to-administer medications and topical solutions can help protect your cat and dog from many, but not all, internal and external parasites. Your veterinarian can help you decide which product is best for your pet and may recommend using these products year-round.
If your pet is already receiving a product that controls fleas, ticks, heartworms and some intestinal parasites, you’re obviously serious about parasite prevention and your pet is healthier as a result.
5. Keep the yard and litter box feces free
Immature stages of intestinal parasites are shed in feces, so eating stool is one way dogs (in particular) and cats are infected with parasites. To reduce pet exposure or reinfection, promptly clean up after your dog to reduce contamination of your yard with immature parasites. Keeping your yard feces free also limits opportunities for your pet to eat feces.
Cleaning your cat’s litter box frequently, preferably daily, can reduce risk of reinfection — or infection if you have more than one cat.
When cleaning up stools and litter boxes, protect your hands by wearing gloves to avoid touching your pet’s feces. And be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards.
Water contaminated with feces is a common infection route for Giardia, which can cause severe diarrhea (although some pets may not develop obvious signs). To avoid exposing your pet to Giardia, don’t let your pet drink from puddles, ponds, lakes or streams, and always offer plenty of clean, fresh water so your pet won’t drink elsewhere.
You can keep your pet safe and parasite free
Even the best-cared-for pet can have parasites at some point in its lifetime given their common, widespread presence. The good news is that internal and external parasites are usually easy to treat and even easier to prevent. Talk with your veterinarian to determine an optimal parasite screening schedule and to find the best preventive products to protect your pet and your family.