I don’t like creepy crawlies. They give me the heebie jeebies. After I see a flea on an exam table I confess, I feel a little itchy for the rest of the day. I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings; I’ve heard many an owner shudder with disgust when describing the worms, whether spaghetti like or little rice, coming from their animal’s hind end. Not only are parasites and pests an aesthetic issue among pet owners, but also a possible health risk for the people who love and interact with those pets on a daily basis.
Let’s start with our friend, the flea. Ctenocephalides felis is that little guy’s fancy name and is quite a mouthful, and while we’re speaking of a mouthful, let’s discuss what happens when your pets eat C.felis. Tapeworms (Taenia) require a flea to mature to an infective state and when your dog or cat consumes a flea when grooming themselves or others, they can be infected with this little worm that will exit days later in the form of tiny little moving grains of rice. Fleas can also cause severe itching and in dogs who have an allergy to fleas we see excessive hair loss and skin infection. A classic sign of a flea allergic dog is one who has “lost his pants” and is missing all the hair over the rump and tail. Fleas are easy to control with a number of topical and oral products and its my recommendation to anyone to doesn’t like to share their home with bloodsucking insects to have their animals on one of these products year-round.
Another popular topic of discussion is Heartworm, Dirofilaria immitis (there certainly are a lot of fancy names for all these little pests). While heartworms are relatively uncommon in this part of the country, they are still a concern. Heartworms require a mosquito as an intermediate host, so in order to get infected, your dog or cat must be bitten by a mosquito. I know that when I lived in the mid-west, and once or twice here, I’ve seen a stray mosquito flitting around my walls in the living room. I mostly speak to the dog owners here, but being a mostly indoor animal, unfortunately isn’t adequate to protect fully from heart worms. As with flea prevention, there are many effective medications on the market (requiring a prescription from your friendly veterinarian) for the prevention of heart worms. Being a Midwesterner, I can tell you from experience that an ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure in this case. The treatment for heart worms is not only expensive, but requires a long convalescence period for our four legged friends, on the order of 1 to 2 months strict cage rest. An added benefit of the heart worm preventives is that they also cover a number of disgusting parasites that hold a much higher risk of transmission to humans.
We all love our four legged children as much as (and sometimes more than!) our 2 legged human children. They always love us and they never yell at us, and, let’s be realistic, they often smell better than a child under two (or three… or four… or a teenage boy…)! Even so, we have a responsibility to not only protect our pets, but also our children, to the best of our ability. Without proper preventive measures, including a monthly heart worm/intestinal parasite preventative and at least annual fecal testing and de-worming, our dogs and cats easily become carriers for a load of creepers that can cause real problems for them, as well as our human children (and adults, if we aren’t careful!).
As terrible as it is to think about it; we’ve all battled a dog’s bowel movement that doesn’t want to come up cleanly, leaving us ripping up grass in an effort to remove evidence of our dog’s deposit. I know we’ve all been caught off guard once or twice and been without a bag to clear the evidence, nothing is 100 percent.
Parasite prevention is just as important in our feline friends who enjoy the great outdoors. A cat’s life is wonderfully enriched by access to the outdoors and while I know it can be challenging (ever seen how mad a cat can get for a topical application? A sight to behold…) to apply monthly preventative, this makes it all the more important to schedule those regular visits to your friendly veterinarian and keep your cats’ GI tracts clean and clear!
These stray molecules of poop that are left behind or the cat’s buried treasure may be teeming with the eggs of roundworms or hookworms (and other unmentionables). If consumed (I know, gross to consider, but where have your kids’ hands been prior to placing fingers in the mouth?), they can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Worse yet, hookworms have been known to burrow through the skin causing a condition called cutaneous larval migrans resulting in terrible itching and rash that can leave the skin scarred and disfigured. The most terrible result of parasite interaction with our children (or adults) is visceral larval migrans. In this case, the worms leave the intestinal tract and travel via the bloodstream to wreak havoc on organs such as the liver, kidney and heart. In rare cases, a subset of this condition is called ocular larval migrans, where the small worms arrive in the eye, resulting in permanent blindness. Now, I don’t mean to scare you (well, maybe I do, a little), but even though the odds of these diseases affecting someone you know seem remote, isn’t it enough to know that our failure to keep track of our pet’s intestinal flora may result in debilitating illness in an unknown person? We try to keep our animals (for the most part) from biting people because we can see and deal with those negative ramifications, but when we stop to consider the issues at work here, it seems to be even more important!
I’ve created a chart with most (forgive me if I’ve missed one or two) of the preventatives on the market currently (please click the link below). Please talk to your friendly veterinarian about what option is best for your situation.