The weather is thankfully warming up this spring, and we as veterinarians find ourselves preparing to see an increased incidence of pets with fleas, the occasional tick, and discussing parasites in general as our dogs and cats become more active outdoors with us. This month, we’d like to address a concern of most pet owners – parasites are something virtually ALL of us have to deal with at one time or another.
A good example that makes this point is the case of my own 13-year-old Dalmatian, Henry. Soon after moving to a new home, we noticed that Henry began to itch like mad and lick at his lower back and tail area. A surprisingly short time later, Henry had an angry red patch of bare skin that he refused to leave alone.
Despite bathing and flea combing him, I was unable to find anything causing the itch. A day or two of diligent searching finally produced one or two fleas hiding in the black spots of his hair coat! Like many dogs and cats, Henry is very sensitive to even one flea bite – their saliva can cause an actual flea allergy dermatitis and serious discomfort.
Fleas are the most common ectoparasite (parasite living on the outside surface of a host) we see on dogs and cats. They are a source of itching, irritation and in some cases, allergy or secondary skin infections. Infestations can affect all animals in a household and can be very difficult to eliminate. Effective treatment of all animals and the environment (carpets, furniture, bedding, etc. in the house) is required for success.
Endoparasites (parasites living on the inside of a host) are most often intestinal in our pets. Those we detect the most include roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, whipworms, giardia and coccidia. Dogs and cats can often be exposed to intestinal parasite eggs in their outdoor environment and ingest them. Treatment is specific for the type of parasite encountered.
The annual examinations and intestinal parasite screens we recommend are very important tools for detection of parasites. A plan for treatment and protection can be devised for your animal based on our area’s prevalence of parasites and the lifestyle of your pet – we’d be happy to discuss this with you at your next visit.
A surprising number of pets that appear healthy with normal looking feces are found to be carrying parasite eggs unknowingly. Many dogs and cats are found to have fleas and have NOT been itchy. Good reasons to be taking a closer look at our pets and taking steps to treat and protect them from these unwelcome guests.