Looking out for parasites

All dogs are at risk from parasites. External parasites like fleas and ticks are usually easy to spot if you know what to look for. You can also tell often that your pet has fleas because fleas frequently cause scratching, chewing and hair loss.

It is harder to know if your pet has internal parasites, like tapeworm, roundworm or whipworms. Sometimes, pets with internal parasites will scoot on their rear end, vomit, have diarrhoea, or lose weight unexpectedly, but often their symptoms are nonspecific and overlooked.

The best way to find out if your pet has internal parasites is to take them to their vet at least yearly. Your vet will examine a stool sample under the microscope to look for evidence of intestinal parasites through identification of microscopic eggs, larvae, and parasites. They will also test your dog’s blood for heartworm disease and other vector-borne parasites. It’s important that anytime you bring a puppy or new pet home, you have them checked by your vet right away to be sure that they won’t be exposing your other pets or family to parasites.

Why should you care?

Since parasites often go undetected, you may wonder why you should care about them? Although pets infected with parasites can sometimes be asymptomatic, they remain a common and important cause of disease in pets. Fleas can cause skin irritation, skin infections, and even anaemia in young animals. The presence of Ticks on your dog is really important as it can spread disease to humans such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis and babesiosis.

Intestinal parasites (worms) can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, malnutrition, weight loss, and anaemia. Heartworm disease can be very debilitating, and if left untreated, can be fatal. If these reasons aren’t enough to make you worry about parasites, here’s another: many of these parasites can make your family members sick. Children are the most vulnerable since parasites can be transmitted by the inadvertent or intentional ingestion of organic material containing eggs found in soil and sandboxes.

Click here to view a list of common parasites your dog is at risk of getting, plus helpful information on how to spot them and how to treat them.

7 Top Tips to Protect You, Your Family and Your Dog Against Parasites

  1. Consult your veterinarian: Ask your veterinarian which parasites are a problem in your area. There are parts of the country where certain internal parasites are less of a concern and others where year-round prevention is imperative. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you what to watch for according to your geographic location, how these parasites can be transmitted to your pet and prescribe the most appropriate preventive products.
  2. Watch for signs of illness: Some pets infected with parasites don’t show any signs of illness. That’s why regular testing and prevention are so important. But when signs do appear, it helps if you know what to look for. Not all parasites cause the same disease signs in pets, but the most common signs include scratching, licking or chewing more than normal on certain parts of his or her body. Diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite or blood in your pet’s stools. Signs of heartworms may include coughing and difficulty breathing. If you observe any of these signs in your pet, consult with your veterinarian immediately to determine the cause.
  3. Give your pet preventive medications: The good news is that there are a number of simple-to-administer medications that can protect your pet from many of these internal and external parasites. Many veterinarians recommend giving these preventives year-round. The key is consistency, even if you’re on holiday vacation. If you happen to miss a few doses, call your vet for advice.
  4. Keep your garden faeces free: Good sanitation is one of the best ways to reduce your pet’s exposure risk to parasites. That means cleaning up after your pooch — all dog feces should be picked up from your garden, since most intestinal parasites are spread through contact with faeces. A faecal-contaminated garden can be a source of exposure for many months, since some parasites can live in the soil for a long time.
  5. Have your veterinarian do a regular faecal check: Every year (or for some pets, every six months) when you visit your veterinarian for your pet’s exam, bring a fresh sample of your pet’s stool. Your veterinarian can use this sample to test for parasites. Young pets are particularly vulnerable to intestinal parasites. If you’ve just gotten a new puppy make sure you bring a stool sample along to the first veterinary exam. This will help get your pet off to a healthy start. If your pet was obtained from a breeder, the breeder should also give you a record of when the puppy was dewormed and what kind of medication was used. This is critical information that should be passed on to your veterinarian.
  6. Don’t let your dog eat faeces: Since many parasitic worms are shed into an animal’s faeces, eating poop is a prime way to pick up parasites. It’s important to prevent your pet from eating feces by either disposing of the waste immediately or taking your dog out on a leash when you are in an area where faecal matter from other animals may be accessible.
  7. Don’t let your pet drink standing water: Standing water is a prime breeding ground for a parasite called Giardia, which can cause severe diarrhoea. Never let your pet drink from standing water or puddles and always provide a clean, fresh source of water for your pet to help prevent him seeking water elsewhere.

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