Pets, parasites and you

BJ Towe and two of her dogs.

Earlier this week, a friend sent me a heartbreaking email: At their routine veterinary exam, one of his three dogs was diagnosed with heartworms and must begin a long and laborious treatment. This news came despite my friend’s religiously giving his pets a preventive heartworm treatment – Every. Single. Month.

His veterinarian compared preventive parasitic treatments to contraception: Nothing is 100 percent effective, particularly when the climate is hot and humid. Additionally, many parasites can be transmitted to other animals and well as to you and your family.

If you’re a pet owner, it’s critical that you:

1) have routine blood and fecal exams for your pets. Because frequency varies based on lifestyle, age and type of pet, ask your veterinarian how often yours needs to be checked, and

2) protect your animal with the preventive treatments your vet recommends. Because it takes six months for larvae to turn into adults, it’s important to continue preventive treatments year-round.

Although dogs are most likely to be affected by parasitic infestations, cats can be as well. Here are some of the most common parasites:

Fleas – Flea bites to the skin can cause severe itching and eventually lead to hair loss, inflammation and other skin infections.

Giardia – After being ingested through contaminated water or other substances, giardia gets into the intestine, causes diarrhea and over time can cause weight loss, poor health and potentially death.

Heartworms – Heartworms are carried from one host to the next through mosquito bites. These small, slender worms can reach a foot in length and live in the heart, lungs and potentially other organs. Dogs rarely display symptoms until the infection is severe, at which time it can be fatal.

Hookworms – Hookworms spread through skin contact (such as bare feet) or ingestion. They attach to the wall of the small intestine and suck blood, which can lead to anemia, diarrhea, weight loss, weakness, blood in the stool and potentially fever, cough and pneumonia-like symptoms. It can be life-threatening.

Mange – Caused by parasitic mites, there are several types of mange. Mange causes severe itching, hair loss, open sores and scabs. When confined to one or two small areas (usually the face), mange may resolve on its own. Mange that affects large areas of the skin or the entire body or a foot requires medical diagnosis and treatment.

Roundworms – These parasites affect nearly all dogs during their lifetimes. Early infections don’t typically have symptoms. Major infestations can cause diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, dull hair and a “potbelly.” Adult roundworms can be seen in feces or vomit.

Tapeworms – Typically contracted from ingesting fleas infested with tapeworm eggs, tapeworms grow up to six inches in length in the intestines. Symptoms can be hard to detect, but may include butt scooting, weight loss without loss of appetite, or increased appetite without weight gain, and a distended abdomen.

Ticks – Ticks attack to your pet’s skin and feed on its blood. Ticks can cause many diseases, the most common of which are Lyme disease (which produces painful, arthritic joints) and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (which can cause your pet to become lame).

Whipworms – Also more common in dogs, hookworms can be difficult to detect, even in stool samples. Severe cases may cause chronic weight loss, diarrhea and mucous-coated stool.

If you suspect your pet has any type of parasite, take them to your vet immediately. If you’re adopting a pet, check to be sure it has had de-worming treatment or get it to your vet right away. And remember to get regular blood and fecal exams – and preventive treatments – as recommended by your vet.

BJ Towe, Moravia, is a board member of Furever Friends Rescue of Appanoose, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to providing needed services to dogs and cats in Appanoose County. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to Furever Friends Rescue of Appanoose, Inc., PO Box 663, Centerville, IA 52544.

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