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Everything You Need to Know About Pets and Parasites

Understanding Parasites

Parasites are very common amongst dogs and cats alike. There are many parasites that can affect our pets, and they can be categorized as either internal or external. Internal parasites include organisms that occur within our pets' bodies such as worms, whereas external parasites include those that occur outside our pets' bodies on the surface of their skin, such as fleas. Both internal and external parasites come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from microscopic (invisible to the naked eye) to the size of a pea. Most parasites that affect our pets are considered zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted to people. The risk parasites pose to people reinforces the importance of providing year round parasite prevention for our pets.

How Can I Protect My Pet From Parasites?

Most parasite infestations can be prevented with year-round prescription parasite prevention, targeted specifically to your pet's lifestyle and geographic location.

My Pet Is Indoor Only - Do They Still Need Parasite Protection?

Yes! Even pets who live indoors only are at risk for parasites and should receive consistent parasite prevention. Parasites can gain access into your home a variety of ways - open doors and windows are an easy entry point, and people and pets coming and going make for great vehicles for parasites to hitch a ride on from outdoors.

Can I Stop My Pet's Parasite Prevention in the Winter?

Unfortunately, there is no season for parasites - they are a year round problem, despite drops in temperature over the fall and winter. Pausing your pet's parasite prevention in the cooler months leaves them (and you!) vulnerable to parasites such as roundworms and whipworms whose eggs can happily survive freezing temperatures for many months.

Does Over the Counter Parasite Prevention Work?

No! It's important to avoid purchasing over the counter preventions, as their formulas are not effective and are often dangerous. In addition to not having the necessary ingredients to adequately protect your pet from parasites, unregulated counterfeit products are on the rise. These over the counter products create a false sense of security, claiming protection while your pet is left vulnerable.

Additionally, when purchasing over the counter, you do not have access to doctor-led guidance in terms of identifying which product is ideal for your pet's particular lifestyle. Parasite risk varies depending on many factors including geographic location, age, size and exposure levels. Purchasing prescription-strength prevention directly from your veterinarian ensures your pet is receiving the safest prevention most appropriate for their particular needs.

Can My Pet Be Tested for Parasites?

Yes! Screening for parasites is generally non-invasive and is a great way to catch parasitic disease early. In addition to diagnostic testing when symptoms are present, it's recommended that your pet be screened for parasites yearly as a preventative measure. The type of screening tool used depends on what parasite your veterinarian wants to test for:

Cytology of the ear and skin is often used to identify external parasites such as mites

Fecal Analysis is typically used to scan for internal parasites affecting the GI tract

Blood Testing is used to scan for non-GI related internal parasitic concerns such as heartworm and tick borne diseases

Physical Exam can be used to determine the presence of some external parasites such as fleas and ticks

What Happens If My Pet is Positive for Parasites?

The treatment for parasites varies depending on what specific parasite your pet is positive for. In most cases, treatment will consist of an oral medication and a strict cleaning protocol to avoid transmitting the disease to other pets and people in the home. Your veterinarian will guide you through your pet's treatment process.

What Are The Most Common Internal Parasites That Can Affect My Pet?

Intestinal Worms including roundworms, whipworms, hookworms and tapeworms. These worms are big enough to be seen with the naked eye and will likely be found in your dog or cat's stool during an active infection. You may notice white debris that ranges in size and shape, like small grains of rice to circular coils.

Affects: dogs and cats

Testing: fecal analysis

Heartworms, which are unique from the other worms listed above in that they do not affect the gastrointestinal tract, and instead affect the heart and lungs.

Affects: dogs and cats, usually dogs

Testing: blood panel

Giardia and Coccidia are microscopic organisms that cause infection in the gastrointestinal tract. You cannot see these organisms as they require a microscope to detect.

Affects: dogs and cats

Testing: fecal analysis

What Are The Most Common External Parasites That Can Affect My Pet?

Fleas are an extremely common external parasite amongst both dogs and cats. Fleas are tiny, black organisms that resemble a fruit fly. They are visible to the naked eye and during an infestation they live on the skin, just beneath the fur. Flea excrement, known as 'flea dirt', is also visible to the eye and will appear as black dust-like material on your pet's skin during an infestation.

Affects: dogs and cats

Testing: physical exam

Sarcoptic Mange, also known as scabies, is an infestation of a microscopic mite that burrows just beneath the surface of the skin. The mites themselves are not visible to the naked eye, however the side effects are easy to spot - the skin will be hairless, red, scaly and thickened.

Affects: dogs and cats, most commonly dogs

Testing: skin cytology

Demodectic Mange, also known as demodex, is caused by an over population of a naturally-occuring mite that lives in a dog's hair follicles. Typically these mites cause no harm, however when a dog's immune system is under-developed or compromised, these mites can overproduce resulting in an infestation. The mites themselves are not visible to the naked eye, however you will notice patches of hair thinning and hair loss.

Affects: dogs and cats, most commonly dogs

Testing: skin cytology

Ticks are pesky parasites found outside in wooded, grassy areas and they range in size from tiny (a couple centimeters) to about the size of a pea. Ticks carry several dangerous diseases that can be deadly to our pets and transmit these diseases by biting our pets, gaining access to their blood stream.

Affects: dogs and cats

Testing: blood panel to screen for tick borne disease

Ear Mites are microscopic organisms that infest the ear canals. You cannot see the ear mites themselves, however the signs are distinct, including severe itching and thick, dark discharge.

Affects: dogs and cats, most commonly cats

Testing: ear cytology


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