When pet owners think about their four-legged friends, they focus on the cute and cuddly aspects—not what might be creeping and crawling under that fluffy fur or hiding in their pet’s intestinal tract. Unfortunately, parasitic diseases are a real and ever-present threat to pet health and comfort.

Don’t let gross parasites come between you and your pet—check out this guide to parasitic disease and prevention from Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Wallisville. 

Intestinal parasites and pets

Intestinal parasites, which include worms and single-celled protozoans, are common internal parasites that affect dogs and cats. Puppies and kittens are most often infected through the placenta or their mother’s milk, while other pets may ingest infective eggs through fecal-oral transmission (e.g., consuming fecal-contaminated food or water, or during self-grooming).

Intestinal parasites include:

  • Roundworms
  • Hookworms
  • Whipworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Giardia
  • Coccidia

These parasites create harmful complications in the intestines and beyond, including anemia, malnutrition, and dehydration, as well as vomiting and diarrhea. Infections are most severe in young and juvenile pets but may be asymptomatic in adults, so your pet’s stool should be examined for parasites at every wellness visit. In addition, some species are zoonotic (i.e., infectious to humans), which makes fecal testing more important. 

Heartworm disease and pets

Heartworm disease occurs when infected mosquitoes transmit the life-threatening parasite to your pet. Heartworm disease infects dogs and cats, but behaves quite differently in each species. After infected mosquitoes transmit the parasite (i.e., Dirofilaria immitis) during a bite, immature heartworms travel to the heart and lungs, where they grow up to 12 inches long and cause devastating cardiovascular complications. 

Classic heartworm disease signs in dogs include a persistent cough, exercise intolerance, lethargy, inappetence, swollen abdomen, and death. In cats, signs may be misdiagnosed as asthma or completely nonexistent until their sudden death. Heartworm disease treatment in dogs is expensive, painful, and prolonged, and no treatment is available for cats. Prevention—through monthly preventives and annual testing—is the best chance against this parasitic disease for dogs, and the only chance for cats.

Flea-borne diseases and pets

Fleas are much more than a nuisance. These tiny wingless creatures bite and feed on pets and reproduce at alarming rates—female fleas can produce almost 30 eggs per day. Their bite is painful and irritating, and they carry harmful bacteria, pathogens, and allergens in their saliva.

Flea-borne conditions include:

  • Tapeworms
  • Bartonella
  • Yersinia pestis (i.e., plague)
  • Murine typhus
  • Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) (i.e., hypersensitivity to a protein in flea saliva that causes painful irritation to allergic pets)

Because fleas multiply rapidly and infest the pet and their environment, they are incredibly difficult to eradicate. Once pet owners detect fleas, they must use veterinary-prescribed preventives and treat the environment consistently for three months to break the entire flea life cycle.

Tick-borne diseases and pets

Ticks love a warm, humid environment such as ours here in southeast Texas. In addition to our namesake Lone Star tick, we commonly see the black-legged tick, American dog tick, and the brown tick. Together, these species transmit debilitating diseases to pets and people, including:

  • Lyme disease
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Anaplasmosis
  • Babesiosis
  • Tick paralysis

Infected ticks must typically attach to the host for at least 24 hours to begin taking a blood meal and transmit infectious material, making prompt tick removal imperative to minimize the pet’s exposure. Clinical signs will vary based on the disease, but typical tick-borne disease signs include transient fever, lameness, joint swelling or pain, lethargy, muscle pain, fatigue, depression, and swollen lymph nodes.

Parasitic disease prevention and pets

Despite the frightening reality of parasitic diseases, prevention is relatively simple. Your Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Wallisville veterinarian will put together a personalized parasite prevention plan for your pet based on their individual risk factors and preferences. In addition to year-round monthly oral or topical preventives, preventive measures include:

  • Deworming — Puppies and kittens should receive routine deworming medication to eliminate intestinal worms.
  • Intestinal parasite screenings— We recommend that your pet’s fecal sample be microscopically reviewed for parasites or parasite eggs at every wellness visit.
  • Environmental management — You can minimize parasite exposure by keeping your pet’s indoor and outdoor environments clean. Keep grasses and weeds trimmed, remove brush and debris, and remove bird feeders that may attract infected wildlife. Launder pet bedding regularly and vacuum carpets and rugs weekly.
  • Good hygiene practices — Fresh pet waste is less infectious, so prompt removal and disposal can minimize environmental contamination. Wash your hands after any contact with pet waste or pet belongings and avoid face-to-face contact.

For the best defense against pesky parasites and their diseases, protect your pet with year-round parasite prevention from Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Wallisville. If your pet doesn’t have a preventive protocol, call our hospital or request an appointment online.