These three parasites can affect your pet every spring. There are many other parasites, but we’ll focus on the most common and/or dangerous ones. Unfortunately, puppies and kittens are most susceptible to these parasites, although adult dogs and cats can be affected as well. In rare cases, adults and children can contract certain parasites from infected animals.
What should you do? Here are three actions you can take to keep you and your pet healthy:
- Have your adult dog’s or cat’s feces checked once or twice a year. A heartworm test should be performed annually. Puppies and kittens should be dewormed every 2 weeks starting at 2-4 weeks of age until 8-10 weeks of age. A fecal parasite exam and a heartworm test should be performed at 6 months of age. Prevention beats the alternative.
- Know the symptoms and breeding environment for parasites.
- Prevent zoonoses (transfer of infection from animal to human) with prevention and parasite killing techniques.
Let’s talk about the three most dangerous and/or common parasites.
Heartworm: The Most Dangerous Pet Parasite?
Generally, dogs and puppies are at greater risk of heartworm infestation. Cats can get heartworm, but the heartworm generally does not survive to maturity in cats. Mosquito bites transmit heartworm and it’s the only way a dog or puppy can get heartworm. After the heartworm larvae enters the dog’s bloodstream, it makes its home in the pulmonary artery of the host and matures in about six to seven months. Once mature it reproduces in other blood vessels and can live 5-7 years, causing heart failure and lung disease in your dog. We consider heartworm the most dangerous of parasites because it matures slowly and is so damaging to a dog or puppy.
- Your dog may develop a cough as the heartworms reproduce crowding the heart and lungs
- Your dog may be winded easier
- They may retain fluids or have a swollen belly
Heartworm Is Preventable
It’s why we recommend yearly tests for adult dogs. Puppies should be checked twice a year, at 6 months or at a year of age. It’s more cost effective to have your dog on a treatment plan rather than suffer through the physical damage and cost of heartworm infestation. Oral preventatives like Interceptor Plus, an injectable like ProHeart and topicals like Vectra that help repel mosquitoes are all available and affordable.
Roundworm and Hookworm: The Common Pet Parasite
Roundworms and hookworms are found in puppies, kittens, adult dogs and adult cats.
Puppies and kittens get roundworms because the mother was infected and passed the worms to her puppies or kittens during pregnancy. Generally, adult dogs get roundworms by eating worm eggs off the ground. Outdoor cats are more likely to be infested than indoor cats.
Roundworms feed on partially digested food in your pet’s intestines.
Hookworms are transmitted to puppies and kittens through the milk of an infested mother. Adult dogs and cats get hookworms from the ground where other dogs and cats have passed eggs. The hookworm eggs live in the soil and can infest your dog or cat by being ingested in routine cleaning.
Hookworms get their name because they feed by hooking on the wall of the intestine and drawing blood from your pet.
Roundworm and Hookworm Symptoms
Almost all cats and dogs will deal with some form of roundworm or hookworm infestation at some point in their lives, but it is usually as puppies and kittens.
Indications of a major infestation in cats and dogs include dull hair, enlarged abdomen, vomiting and weight loss. Check feces or vomit signs of worms.
Roundworm and Hookworm are Preventable
Keep your dog and cat’s living area clean. Remove feces as soon as possible. Be sure your pets avoid contaminated areas. Get your puppies and kittens tested and treated for roundworms and hookworms within a few weeks of birth. Nursing mothers can be put on a preventative. Adult dogs and cats can also be put on a preventative.
Parasites are Zoonotic: Keep Your Family Safe
Intestinal parasites can be transmitted from animals to humans. A diligent deworming program is good for the health of pets and the health of your family.
Folks at risk are those with a weak immune system, the elderly, and children. In fact, infants infected with roundworms can go blind. The best defense is to maintain a deworming treatment plan for your pets. The next best defense is to wash your hands after you've touched the fur on the hind end or handled animal feces.