Fleas, ticks and 5 other parasites that put your pet's health at risk

Fleas, ticks and 5 other parasites that put your pet's health at risk

Nobody likes seeing fleas on their pets or worms in their pet's poop. But do we really know the dangers those parasites pose?

Below are some of the most common and harmful parasites that could be affecting your pet’s health.

1. Heartworms

Most pet owners are aware of the dangers of heartworms and that a heartworm infection can be fatal if left untreated. What many pet owners do not know is that cats - and other pets like ferrets - are also at risk of infection, and that even indoor pets can become infected with heartworms.

Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes and can damage the heart and lungs. There is a treatment option available for dogs, but it is very expensive and there can be serious side effects during treatment. There is no treatment option for cats or ferrets with heartworm disease. Prevention is a much healthier treatment for almost all pets!

2. Fleas

Not only are they gross and itchy, fleas can be much more dangerous than they first appear to be. Some animals have a hypersensitivity to flea saliva, and will become severely itchy with just a few flea bites. In small animals, a flea infestation can also cause blood loss anemia strictly from the amount of blood fleas suck from their host animal. In severe cases, this anemia can be fatal.

Fleas can transmit tapeworms and parasitic bloodborne bacteria. Chronic gastrointestinal problems can result from tapeworm infections and severe anemia can result from the bacterial blood infection. 

3. Ticks

Another thoroughly disgusting parasite, ticks are common in wooded areas and areas with large grass overgrowth. Ticks attach to a pet, feed and once engorged with blood and baby ticks, they detach. Ticks are responsible for transmitting a number of nasty diseases: Lyme disease, ehrlichia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesia (a blood-borne protozoan parasite) and anaplasma. 

4. Hookworms

These are tiny intestinal worms that are common in young puppies and kittens, and hookworm infestations can cause severe blood loss anemia  if not treated. The hookworms can also affect humans – there is a condition called cutaneous larval migrans, where the larval hookworms (so named for their scary mouthparts) bury into a person's skin and create an itchy, red wavy line as they migrate through the skin. Soil becomes infected when animals that have hookworms defecate in that area. 

5. Roundworms

These intestinal parasites are very common in dogs and cats. Even indoor cats are susceptible to roundworm infection through ingestion of common potting soil (roundworm eggs can be found in potting soil used for indoor plants). Dogs and cats become infected from ingesting roundworm eggs either from contaminated feces, contaminated soil or in prey items.

Roundworms can cause chronic gastrointesinal problems and even intestinal impactions. Roundworms can be transmitted to people. In children, the roundworm especially likes to travel to the eye, and can be mistaken for a cancerous condition known and retinoblastoma. 

6. Whipworms

The third in the trifecta of intestinal nematodes, this parasite is a tricky one to get rid of once it is established in the environment (through infected feces). It causes general gastrointestinal problems, and once diagnosed, routine de-wormings need to be continued for months in order to clear the environment since the eggs can hang around in the soil for a long time. Not all monthly heartworm preventatives deworm for whipworms, so if an infestation is identified, a correct product needs to be chosen that can kill whipworms.

7. Tapeworms

Probably the least troublesome of the intestinal parasites, tapeworms usually tell us of a bigger problem – fleas. The only way pets can get tapeworms is from ingestion of fleas, so if tapeworms keep appearing, then there is an active flea problem. The tapeworms themselves usually only cause mild gastrointestinal upset, and treating tapeworms when they are identified will help prevent those issues.

The bottom line is that all of these parasites are not only gross, but they can also cause serious harm in our pets, and sometimes in the humans they live with. By keeping your pet on a monthly, year-round preventative, you can protect your entire family from these parasites. Prevention is healthier (and cheaper) than treatment! 

About this Angie’s List Expert: Lindsay Beckendorf, DVM, is a veterinarian with Country Club Pet Hospital in Mansfield, Texas. Established in 2006, Country Club Pet Hospital’s doctors and staff treat dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, rabbits, rodents and ferrets and offers other vetirinary care to pets in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with a goal of promoting overall health and longevity for your pets.

As of June 24, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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