Internal and external parasites frequently infect pets, and your furry pal can develop serious health complications. However, you can take steps to protect your pet from potentially harmful parasites. Learn to safeguard your four-legged friend by reading our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team’s guide to common parasites that plague pets. 

Heartworms plague pets

As a Florida resident, you are likely well versed at combating mosquitoes. These pesky blood suckers transmit heartworms, and all pets are susceptible. The more you know about heartworms, the better you can safeguard your pet:

  • Heartworms in dogs — Dogs and wild canids are natural hosts for heartworms, because these parasites can mature, breed, and produce offspring while living in your dog’s cardiovascular system. After invading your dog’s bloodstream, the young parasite travels to your beloved companion’s pulmonary artery, and settles in. A dog’s immune system responds by creating inflammation, which enlarges their pulmonary arteries. Eventually, this distension creates an area of resistance, resulting in congestive heart failure. Most dogs do not exhibit parasitic infection signs during the early stages, but as their condition progresses, signs include a soft persistent cough, exercise intolerance, and weight loss. Treatment involves killing the heartworms at each life stage, but the process is risky because the worm die-off causes inflammation that can result in serious health complications, including sudden death.
  • Heartworms in cats — Cats are atypical heartworm hosts, and the parasite rarely survives to adulthood inside the feline bloodstream. However, heartworms can and do cause significant health problems for cats. Similar to dogs, after infection the young parasites travel to the cat’s pulmonary artery, but because the cat is not a natural host, the feline immune system reacts strongly, causing inflammation that leads to lung disease. This condition—heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD)—includes signs such as coughing, wheezing, vomiting, and respiratory distress. No treatment has been approved for feline heartworm disease, and supportive care is employed to help stabilize affected cats.
  • Heartworm prevention in pets — Fortunately, you can easily prevent your dog or cat from contracting this parasitic infection. Ensure your pet receives year-round heartworm prevention medication, which is the most effective protection from this dangerous parasite.

Fleas plague pets

Fleas are the most common external parasite found on cats and dogs. Adult fleas live on animals and feed on their blood. Every day, the female flea can lay up to 40 eggs, which hatch in 1 to 10 days, spreading throughout your home and yard. Fleas are more than a nuisance. They can cause pets to experience significant health complications, including:

  • Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) — Many pets are allergic to flea saliva, and FAD is the most common skin disease in dogs and cats. The condition causes severe itching, hair loss, and potentially secondary skin infections. 
  • Anemia — Fleas can ingest up to 15 times their body weight in blood every day. A heavy flea burden can cause your pet to develop anemia, especially if they are young.
  • Bartonellosis — Fleas can carry and transmit Bartonella, a bacterium that can cause pets and people to become ill.
  • Tapeworms — Fleas can transmit tapeworms, a parasite that leaches nutrients from your pet’s gastrointestinal tract. 

The best way to protect your pet from fleas is to ensure your furry pal receives year-round flea prevention medication.

Ticks plague pets

Ticks target pets because these parasites are attracted to motion, body heat, and exhaled carbon dioxide. The female tick can produce a toxin that causes pets to develop ascending paralysis, and certain tick species can transmit diseases such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Learn all you can about these parasites and the diseases they carry to ensure you effectively protect your pet from tick-borne diseases:

  • Signs — Most pets who develop tick-borne illnesses exhibit nonspecific signs such as fever, lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes, and joint pain. Some conditions can lead to organ damage, bleeding abnormalities, and neurologic problems. 
  • Diagnosis — Serologic tests are typically employed to diagnose tick-borne illnesses, but false negatives may occur. 
  • Treatment — Your veterinarian will prescribe a particular antibiotic that is usually effective against tick-borne illnesses, but in some cases, treatment can take several weeks or months to clear the infection. 
  • Prevention — You should always check your pet for ticks after going outside. If you find ticks on your pet, immediately remove them. If you remove a tick within 16 hours of attaching to your pet, their disease risk is significantly decreased. In addition, ensure your pet receives year-round tick prevention medication.

Intestinal parasites plague pets

Intestinal parasites affect a majority of pets at some point during their lives, and these parasites can cause serious health complications, especially for puppies, kittens, and immunocompromised animals. The most common intestinal parasites include:

  • Hookworms — Hookworms attach to a pet’s intestinal lining, and feed on their blood, potentially causing anemia. 
  • Roundworms — Roundworms can live freely in a pet’s intestine, feeding on surrounding nutrients. Roundworms can stunt a puppy or kitten’s growth and cause gastrointestinal problems. 
  • Whipworms — Whipworms irritate a pet’s large intestine, resulting in chronic watery diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, and weight loss.
  • Tapeworms — Tapeworms can stunt a puppy’s or kitten’s growth, and irritate an adult pet’s anus. 

Protect your pet from intestinal parasites by deworming them each month with appropriate medication.

Parasites can cause your pet various health problems, but you can protect your four-legged friend by providing year-round parasite prevention medication. If you suspect your pet has parasites, contact our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team for help.