Preventive Care: Parasite Screening & Prevention
It’s a big world out there filled with an assortment of parasites waiting to find your pet! Internal parasites enjoy living inside your pet’s body (heartworms and intestinal parasites) while external parasites live on the outside of your pet’s body (fleas, ticks, lice and mites). These parasites are not only a nuisance but can also lead to serious and sometimes fatal illnesses. That’s why regular parasite screening and prevention is an essential part of your pet’s wellness care. Village Veterinary Practice will regularly assess your pet’s lifestyle and make the best recommendations to keep your pet healthy and parasite free!
Intestinal Parasites & Screening
Roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, and giardia (just to name a few) are parasites that we screen for with a fecal exam. Any animal that goes outside, even for brief periods of time is susceptible to coming in contact with these parasites. Has your pet eaten things outside such as grass, mud or plants? Does your pet like to hunt rabbits or rodents? Does your pet lick his/her feet after being outside? Does your pet enjoy snacking on potting soil from your indoor plants? And how much “stuff” do you bring inside your home from your shoes that you don’t know about? These are all ways pets can get intestinal parasites, which are out all year long, and unfortunately humans can also contract some of these parasites. That’s why we recommend every patient have a fecal exam annually so that we can screen for these parasites and treat if necessary.
Heartworm Disease & Screening
Canine heartworm disease develops when a dog is bitten by a mosquito carrying the microscopic heartworm larvae (immature worms) of a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis. After the mosquito bites, these microscopic larvae penetrate the dog’s skin and make their way to the dog’s bloodstream. Heartworm larvae will develop into adult worms that can grow 10 to 12 inches in length! The worms take up residence in the right side of the heart and pulmonary (lung) arteries and if left untreated, will cause lung disease and heart failure. All dogs should have an annual heartworm test. The test is a safeguard against your pet suffering from heartworm disease without your knowledge. The heartworm test requires a small blood sample and is performed in our hospital laboratory. Results are available in just 8 minutes.
Felines are also at risk for contracting heartworm disease; however the disease in cats presents itself differently than in dogs. Felines are not normal host for the Dirofilaria immitis parasite so when cats contract this parasite, their immune systems do a much better job of killing the immature heartworms. However, when a feline’s immune system is killing heartworms there can be associated inflammation in the lungs causing asthma like symptoms. And if the immune system doesn’t manage to kill the immature parasite, the larvae will develop into adult worms and in a cat, 1-2 adult heartworms can be fatal. Annual heartworm testing is not generally done in our feline patients but rather performed if certain respiratory symptoms are observed.
Tick Borne Diseases & Screening
Ticks are not only annoying, but they can also carry diseases that can be transmitted to animals during a tick bite. Ticks can be found at anytime of the year and anywhere in the United States. According to current parasite prevalence maps, ticks are becoming more widespread in Illinois. And because ticks are so small, it can sometimes be difficult to locate a tick within the hair coat of your pet. So remember that heartworm test we talked about in the previous section? Well that heartworm test also screens for three different tick borne diseases – Lyme disease, Erlichiosis and Analplasmosis – giving you an answer as to whether your dog has been exposed to a tick borne disease without your knowledge.
Fleas & Screening
Fleas just saying the word out loud makes most people start itching! Fleas are insects that bite and feed on the host’s blood. The bite is painful and some dogs and cats will have an allergic reaction to the bite causing a more generalized skin problem known as flea allergy dermatitis. Tapeworm transmission can occur if your pet has fleas and inadvertently swallows a flea while chewing at the irritated areas. Fleas they can be detected simply with the naked eye during your pet’s physical exam and can be most easily found at the base of the tail and on your pet’s belly. Sometimes we don’t see any adult fleas but we find a lot of “dirt” on your pet. If fleas are suspected, we placed this “dirt” on a while paper towel or gauze pad and cover with a small amount of isopropyl alcohol. The “dirt” is rubbed over the alcohol and if it leaves a red residue, that’s called “flea dirt” or flea feces. But don’t worry; we’ve got safe and effective treatments!
When it comes to parasites, both internal and external, prevention is the key to maintaining your pet’s health. Together, we will work to understand your pet’s parasite exposure risks and make the best recommendations to suite your pet’s lifestyle. We have very safe, effective preventives that cover a multitude of parasites. When is the last time you gave your pet parasite prevention?
To learn more about parasites that can affect your pet or look a current parasite prevalence maps, visit the Companion Animal Parasite Council website.