As the new season starts to unfold the air starts to become warmer, the air crisper, and the plants begin to blossom. There is so much beauty to be had in Spring! Regrettably, the rising temperatures also means that something else is brewing. And it's the type you can’t see with your own eyes. Parasites.
As with humans, it is important to have a yearly check up for your cat or dog with your local veterinarian at least once a year, although every 6 months is strongly recommended! It is equally important to check your pet’s stool for intestinal parasites at least once a year. The most common types of parasites are roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms yet humans can only see roundworms and tapeworms. Now if that weren’t already disgusting enough add in the fact that humans can contract roundworms and hookworms.
But how do you know if your pet has an intestinal parasite, especially if you can’t even see them?
It’s simple, bring a fresh stool sample into your vet to have tested. They can confirm within a few days if there are any parasites and if so, prescribe a broad spectrum de-wormer to eradicate anything they might have. Granted, poop is gross but this simple test keeps you and your fur babies safe from something that is all too common. Yes I said common. Most parasites are transmitted when a pet ingests contaminated soil, water, food or feces. Tapeworms can also be transmitted when a dog eats a flea. If you suspect that your pet may have an intestinal parasite keep an eye out for signs of diarrhea, weight loss, coughing, reduced appetite or a dry, unhealthy coat.
The one good thing about Winter, is that we normally see less fleas plaguing our pets. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. If you have an itchy pet, the only true way to know if they have fleas or not is to search for “flea dirt” which is actually flea feces and is composed of digested blood. It is also important to understand the flea life cycle. The flea spends most of its life on a live animal (dog, cat, etc.). It feeds and lays 40-50 eggs per day which drop off the unsuspecting pet wherever they go. The eggs begin to hatch into larvae within 1-10 days. Then within 5-11 days, they develop into a cocoon stage (pupae) that can lay dormant for several months before reawakening one day to complete this vicious cycle. But you can help by keeping your pet up to date on their flea preventative.
Now for one of the scariest worms of all. And it comes from that grubby little bugger that everyone loves to hate. The mosquito. A mosquito will feed on an infected pet and in turn infect an
otherwise healthy animal from a single bite. It takes 6 months for the larvae to mature into adult heartworms. Once mature, heartworms can live in canines for 5-7 years. Dogs are a natural host for heartworms and once infected, have been known to harbor several hundred foot long worms that live in their hearts, lungs and adjoining blood vessels. Left untreated it can lead to severe lung disease, heart failure, blockage of blood flow and damage to other organs.
The best way to combat this deadly parasite is to use a heartworm preventative medicine as well as letting your local vet perform an annual heartworm test, which is just a simple blood draw. One of the most common questions that veterinarians are asked is
Why would a heartworm test be necessary if their pet is on a combo flea/heartworm preventative? Even though most products are highly effective in preventing heartworm infection, there is still no product that is 100% effective. As well as the fact that it only takes one day to fall off schedule and have your pet bitten. Most importantly of all, if your pet is found to be heartworm positive, the preventative medicine they are currently taking can occasionally result in severe and even fatal reactions.
There is enough scary things in the world to worry about than to allow a nearly invisible and microscopic organism wreak havoc to our pets. Remember, they can't tell us when they don't feel good. Its up to us to be proactive in doing the needed diagnostics in order to ensure these innocent creatures a long and happy life.
Cozette Chesbrough, Client Service Representative at Alley Cat Small Animal Hospital