A parasite lives on or in another organism and feeds off that organism. Pets often become the host body for parasites, both external and internal. To protect your pet from parasites, you need to be proactive. Learning to recognize symptoms of parasites and take steps to prevent them. Check with your veterinarian for advice on treatment and preventive measures.
External. External parasites live outside the host’s body and include fleas, mites and ticks. These parasites can cause skin irritation, itching and rashes and affect both cats and dogs.
• Fleas. Fleas may go unnoticed until your pet begins scratching excessively. Treatments are available through your veterinarian and vary depending on the animal and the severity of the problem.
• Mites. There are mites that affect the skin and mites that are found in the ears of both cats and dogs. Sarcoptic mange mites or scabies are very contagious from dog to dog, while demodectic mange mites are not. Both cause scaly skin patches, but a dog infected with demodectic mange mites usually will not itch, while one with scabies will. Both conditions are treatable, but a dog with suspected demodectic mange mites should be examined by a veterinarian. Ear mites will make your dog or cat scratch their ears, and a brown or black discharge may be present. These mites can be treated with medication and cleaning of the ears.
• Ticks. Any animal playing outdoors in wooded areas may pick up a tick. The little bloodsuckers need to be removed promptly. Ticks can spread Lyme disease and other infectious diseases. When removing a tick from your pet, never crush it or yank it from the skin. Use tweezers to remove the entire tick. Consult your veterinarian if you’re unable to remove the entire tick
Internal. Internal parasites live inside your pet’s body, usually within the gastrointestinal, respiratory or urinary tracts. Most worm infections can be prevented with a monthly deworming medication. If a pet does become infected, your veterinarian can prescribe the proper treatment.
• Roundworms. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), roundworms are the most common internal parasite found in dogs and cats. Infection occurs when your pet eats something contaminated with the parasite’s eggs or larvae, usually found in dirt, bugs, birds and feces. For canines, roundworms are more common in puppies; the infection occurs before birth. This parasite can affect both the lungs and the intestines.
• Hookworms. Hookworms affect both dogs and cats, infecting the animals through ingestion the same as roundworms, or they can enter through the animal’s skin. Hookworms can be passed to puppies through a mother’s milk as well. Symptoms include diarrhea, lack of appetite and bloody stools.
• Tapeworms. The tapeworm is ingested when your cat or dog eats an infected flea or rodent. Symptoms may include mild stomach upset and soft stools, but this parasite is usually not lethal.