Internal and external parasites can be more than just an annoyance for you and your pet. In certain instances, they can lead to serious illness and even death. Prevention again plays an important role where parasites are concerned.

Intestinal worms:  Among the most common problems a dog may face, intestinal parasites are particularly prevalent in puppies. Adult dogs may be infected also. Common parasites include roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, and several protozoa. Signs may include diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, a distended or bloated abdomen, a generally poor hair coat, and even death. It is estimated that up to 85% of all puppies have intestinal worms. Transmission is from eating off the contaminated ground, eating wildlife or uncooked meat, or migration through the skin from infected soil. Your veterinarian can identify parasite eggs in your pet’s feces. A fresh stool sample 12-24 hours old should be provided to check for parasites. Many over-the-counter medications are less effective and even dangerous to your pet, so your veterinarian should prescribe an appropriate medication.

Heartworm disease: Canine heartworm disease is a serious threat in nearly every state, southwest Michigan being no exception. Briefly stated, mosquitoes transmit the larvae to your dog, which then mature into adult worms that live in the heart. Severely infected dogs may die from heartworm disease. Cats, and rarely people have been infected. Some facts about heartworm disease:

  • Since mosquitoes transmit heartworms, dogs are at risk throughout the mosquito season (May-November).
  • Signs of heartworm disease include coughing, weight loss, lethargy, labored breathing, collapse, and death.
  • Easily prevented with a monthly beef-flavored cube treat called Heartgard. There is also a very effective and convenient topical monthly heartworm/flea combination product available called Advantage Multi.
  • Treatment is less dangerous today but is costly, and does not reverse the damage already done to the heart. Currently, there is a worldwide shortage of the medication to treat the infection.
  • A simple blood test is done each year which tests for heartworm disease, Lyme disease, and 4 Ehrlichia species (another blood parasite) before renewing the heartworm prevention prescription. Administration of heartworm prevention to a heartworm positive dog can be very dangerous, and should only be done with veterinary guidance.
  • Heartworm prevention given year round will also effectively prevent intestinal parasites.

External parasites: Common to dogs and cats are a number of external parasites that are not only bothersome to you and your pet but can transmit sometimes fatal disease.

Fleas: These brown insects live on the surface of your pet’s skin and feed on blood. They excrete dried-blood feces often identified on your pet as “flea dirt”.  Here are some facts about fleas:

  • Since fleas feed on blood from your pet, a severe flea infestation can cause anemia that can reach life-threatening severity.
  • Each flea lays approximately 50 eggs per day that fall off wherever your pet goes. A flea infestation by 50-100 fleas is not uncommon.
  • Fleas can transmit other diseases, including blood parasites and tapeworms.
  • Flea bites can sensitize your dog to a severe flea allergy, causing him to have very severe skin disease whenever he is exposed to flea bites.
  • Fleas are now easily treated or prevented with a once per month topical medication. Some over-the-counter products are NOT as effective.

Ticks: These blood-sucking arthropods attach themselves to your dog’s skin and engorge themselves with blood, which is used to nourish their eggs. They are found typically in wooded or grassy areas from spring to mid-summer. They may carry a number of infectious blood-borne diseases including Lyme disease and Ehrlichia. A tick should be removed by pulling it out near the attachment point on the skin. Using tweezers is advised. Never burn or squeeze a tick while attached to your dog’s skin. A very effective topical once-per-month prevention is available from your veterinarian to prevent both flea and tick parasitism.

Mites:  These parasites are found on the skin or in the ears of both dogs and cats. Several types of mites may be found. Infestation of the skin is called mange and may cause mild or intense itching, hair loss, and skin lesions. Your veterinarian will advise you on the proper treatment depending upon the type of mite found. Ear mites are very common in puppies and are relatively easy to treat.