A long and healthy life is our goal when we are caring for our pets. To accomplish this, there are many very important steps we must take in our area. Because of the tropical nature of our climate, parasites are quite prevalent. |
Besides worms, other parasites can cause pets problems. Deworming is not enough. A fecal examination MUST be done on all puppies and kittens at least twice and then twice a year on all pets to screen for parasites to keep pets and humans safe.
For more information on parasites see www.petsandparasites.org
We start treating puppies for parasites at two weeks of age, kittens at 4 weeks. Deworming must begin at this age because this is the earliest that we usually find the adult worms that can be killed by dewormers safe enough to be used in these young puppies. Hopefully, the mothers have been dewormed before, during, and after their pregnancy as well. Puppies can die from worms while they are still in the womb. Worms are passed to puppies while they are in the uterus, in the milk while they are nursing and through a feces contaminated environment anytime after birth. You will never see any hookworms in the stool, so absence of worms means nothing. Hookworms are very tiny. They suck blood in the intestine and move to a new place frequently, causing multiple bleeding areas which often causes death. Blood is not usually seen in the stool, but sometimes a black, sticky substance is seen. This is digested blood. Adult dogs and cats frequently have hookworms, but usually don't die from them. Unfortunately, people can get hookworms too; they can cause skin eruptions and abdominal cramps and bleeding. All pets in the household must be dewormed and feces must be picked up and properly disposed of at least every 3 days. Larval forms of worms are the contagious forms, both to people and to pets and can only be seen under the microscope. You will not be able to look at feces and tell if there are worm eggs or larvae in it. Larvae can move just like any worm and they crawl away from the feces and sit in dewdrops on the top of grass waiting for an animal or person to carry it to their mouth.
Roundworms are also common in kittens and puppies. You will not see roundworms either, unless there are so many that they don't fit. In some cases, some worms will pass in the stool or even be vomited up. Puppies with roundworms often have round bellies from malnutrition, often mistaken for "fat" puppies. Unfortunately, people can get roundworms too; some cases result in blindness. All pets in the household must be dewormed and feces must be picked up and properly disposed of.
Whipworms are usually seen in older dogs since it usually takes a long time for them to mature and produce eggs. These infections can cause mucus or bloody stool, straining, or rupture similar to appendicitis. These are tough to kill and the eggs live a long time in the yard. Prevention is best. Not all dewormers will take care of whipworms. It is important to keep feces picked up and properly disposed of to prevent your pet from being reinfected.
Tapeworms mainly come from eating infected fleas while chewing at itchy places because of biting fleas. Prevention is best by using flea products that kill BEFORE the fleas bite. There are only a few products that do this, so choose your products carefully. People can get these tapeworms by accidentally swallowing an infected flea. You can see the egg packet segment of a tapeworm come out of the rectum of your pet. It crawls like an inchworm. When it dries up on your pet's bedding, it looks like a sesame seed. If you see this evidence, please bring your pet to your veterinarian for tapeworm medication. You must continue using flea prevention to keep tapeworms from coming back. The flea tapeworm is seen more commonly in dogs, cats, rabbits, and ferrets. There are other types of tapeworms that are seen in pets that eat rodents and rabbits in the woods. Prevention is to not allow your pets to roam away from the yard. Rodent tapeworms often have a direct life cycle, which means you can get tapeworms directly from accidentally ingesting tapeworm eggs from your pet rat, hamster, mouse, etc. feces. Hand washing after handling pets and having all pets exam and fecal analysis twice a year can prevent this from happening. Treatment for all tapeworms is the same medication.
A different kind of tapeworm comes from eating small creatures such as rodents. Pets that are not allowed to roam and hunt should not have the opportunity to get this kind of tapeworm.
Coccidia is a protozoal parasite that lives in the wall of the intestine, destroying the cells it lives in. This causes diarrhea. The multiplying effect of the life cycle means that more and more cells are destroyed and the pet can die of dehydration and malnutrition. If caught early, the outcome is very different. There are several medications that stop the life cycle and the pet is able to recover. We often catch this parasite before there are symptoms. This parasite is seen in puppies, kittens, birds and lizards.
Giardia is another protozoal parasite and it is possible to infect humans. It lives in the intestine. Some animals have the human form of giardia, so humans are easily infected by this form. The beaver is the animal that carries this form. Puppies and kittens usually have their own variety, but humans may be infected if their immune system is not functioning properly. Medication may not be completely effective, but usually stops the shedding. This is not true in other pets that commonly have giardia, such as most reptiles and some rodents, especially hamsters.
Toxoplasmosis is a protozoal parasite that is well-known to cause problems in people as well as many animals species from birds to seals. It is very common in some countries and most people contract the illness by eating infected, undercooked meat that contains the cyst form of the parasite. Cats get the disease from eating rodents which has the cyst form of the disease. The life cycle then continues in the cat. Another form of the parasite is passed in the feces and hatches out in 1-2 days. This form is also contagious to humans and is the reason pregnant women should not handle cat litter. Infection in the unborn child can have disastrous consequences. The cat only passes the oocyst in the feces for about 2-3 weeks and then they are usually never passed again. There are treatments for toxoplasmosis, but diagnosis is sometimes difficult and too late. Prevention is best. Do not allow cats to hunt-keep them indoors. Cook all meat products thoroughly, especially in other countries. For more information http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasmosis.
Fleas are an important parasite that carries another parasite, the tapeworm, as your learned above. It does this by actually eating the egg released by tapeworm egg packet segment while the flea is in the larval stage. When it grows up to be an adult flea, the tapeworm egg has also grown up to be an infective larvae, waiting and hoping for the flea to be eaten by a host animal. When the intestine digests away the flea, the tapeworm is where it wants to be. Besides being a carrier for the tapeworm, the flea is also a carrier for the cat-scratch-fever bacteria-Bartonella. Bartonella can also cause infections of the heart and even death in people with immune system problems. Fleas carry the plaque bacteria, which can be found in West Texas. Fleas can also eat so much blood that an animal becomes anemic, even to the point of death. Some animals must receive an emergency blood transfusion to save their life. For some, it is too late. The most common flea-related problem we see is flea-allergic dermatitis. To many people it looks like mange. This is a very itchy dog or cat that is losing hair and has crusty areas and sores. Cats have the worst problem down their back and around their neck while dogs have the worse problem on their rump and tail. This is simple an allergy to flea saliva. These pets need the help of a veterinarian and a good flea product. Using flea products that kill BEFORE the bite is very important. Also, you do not want a flea repellant on your pet. Then they will get on you. It is very important to use a product that is safe for pets and people. Using strong insecticides in your yard that kills everything and washes into our waterways is NOT what we should be doing for fleas.
There are several different kinds of mange that affect many species of pets. Each needs to be treated differently. NONE is treated with motor oil!
Sarcoptic mange and notoedric mange are microscopic tick-like critters similar to chiggers. However, unlike chiggers, they are contagious to other animals and to people. Sometimes they are very difficult to diagnose, especially in adult animals. Skin scrapings can find them reliably in young animals, but not so easy in older animals. Sometimes, we just go ahead and treat and try to make they poor miserable animals feel better. Typically there are crusty, very itchy lesions on elbows, sometimes on ears, abdomen, and hocks. There are several different treatments available. These mites can be found on dogs, cats, pigs, rodents, rabbits, and other small mammals.
Demodectic mange is generally not itchy, but can cause extreme hair loss and deep skin infections. In some dogs, especially pit bulls, it can be fatal. It can occur in dogs, cats, and rodents. In dogs it is considered to be a hereditary defect and these dogs should not be bred. The mite is microscopic and can be found on a skin scraping. Treatment can be frustrating and not all dogs will respond well. Sometimes it can be contagious, but people do not get it.
Heartworms affect dogs, cats and ferrets. All these pets must be on heartworm prevention all year round. Cats and ferrets can not be treated for heartworms if they get them because they usually die from the treatment, so prevention is our only option. It only takes one worm to kill a cat or a ferret. Most diagnosed cats are indoor cats. Mosquitos come indoors. Cats don't even have to have an adult worm to be affected. The latest research shows that immature heartworms that die in the cat lung cause permanent damage that often results in asthma. The death of an adult worm in a cat usually results in the death of the cat. Most people are still unaware of the risks. There are several different monthly heartworm preventions for cats.
Dogs are the usual heartworm host. The worms enter the dog by a mosquito bite and mature as they migrate throughout the body. At about 5-6 months they end up inside the heart where they stay for the remainder of their life. They mate there and produce larvae which are released in the bloodstream and then are taken up by a mosquito. As the number of worms in the heart increase, there is not enough room for the blood to be pumped throughout the body. The heart enlarges, but then more worms are added. Eventually, the heart fails and the dog dies. The youngest dog I have seen die of heartworms was only 9 months old. Heartworm prevention is given once a month is comes in combination with a dewormer and even a flea prevention.
For more information see www.heartwormsociety.org
Ticks are very hardy parasites and are known carriers of many diseases. They do cause itching and blood loss and some even cause a kind of paralysis by a toxin they secrete. There are several different kinds of ticks that are common in our area. Some of the diseases they carry that are important in small animals are Lyme disease, Babesia, Ehrlichia, Anaplasma, Cytauxzoonosis in cats and Hepatozoonosis in dogs. These diseases are often fatal if not treated promptly. Prevention is best and is accomplished by keeping your pet from wandering and coming into contact with wildlife and by using a tick prevention for pets that have access to yards that have ever had ticks or that have any kind of wildlife-squirrels, possums, racoons, etc. The only safe tick prevention for cats is monthly applcation of Frontline. For dogs, the best tick prevention has been the Preventic collar, which must be replaced every 3 months. Hepatozoonosis is a tick disease that dogs get by eating ticks, either by grooming themselves or eating dead wildlife infected with ticks. So the tick collar will not prevent this disease.
There are other less-common parasites that do occur in the area including liver flukes that are carried by raccoons and passed by eating snails, stomach worms that are carried by insects and worms, lung worms passed by eating worms, snails, birds or rodents. These all have their own treatment and symptoms and make routine fecals and exams important.