Pets, Parasites and Your Health
Today, our pets live closer to us than ever before and our relationship with them has evolved to a greater intimacy. This brings new issues to the forefront of veterinary medicine and we must be more particular than ever to ensure the safety of our families and pets.
Pets can pick up parasites in different ways: from feces on the ground, while developing in utero, or through their mother’s milk. Just like wild animals, your pets have the innate ability to hide sickness until they become extremely ill and, even though infected with parasites, may not show any clinical signs. Therefore, by the time these clinical signs are apparent, your pet is often very ill and has been shedding parasites for a long time.
Parasites can be transmitted to humans in many different ways, too. When people become infected with parasites, this is called a zoonotic infection and can lead to some very serious conditions. In people, these infections are usually the result of contact with areas contaminated by animal fecal matter. Children tend to be more susceptible to infection because they are more likely to run around bare-footed and are less likely to worry about good hygiene.
Because people are not the normal hosts, these parasites become confused when entering the body. This results in migration to abnormal areas through a process called "Visceral Larval Migrans." Some of the places parasites may migrate include the eyes and other organs, where they may cause serious or even permanent damage.
What should we do as a family to protect our pets and ourselves from parasites?
Don’t panic—simply follow these effective measures for prevention of parasite infestations in young pets:
- Prior to the first veterinary checkup at 6–8 weeks of age, de-worm puppies and kittens at 2–3 weeks of age, and then every 3 weeks.
- Ask your veterinarian to do a fecal analysis on any new pet and de-worm regularly.
- De-worm all pets annually, or more often if environmental factors indicate need.
- Use good hygiene, such as washing hands after playing with pets or coming in from outside, and wearing shoes outdoors.
- Teach children to follow good hygiene rules at an early age.
Young pets are more susceptible to parasites and have not developed some of the natural resistance of older animals. Still, our older pets also need to be de-wormed on a regular schedule to prevent problems from occurring.
This issue can be controlled with just a little precaution, allowing people and pets to continue their close relationship. And remember—this relationship can be extended for a long time with the help of your veterinarian. For more information, please contact us.
Save Your Pet From Heartworms
Heartworm disease is serious—sometimes even fatal—and strikes both dogs and cats, although it is much more commonly seen in dogs.
Heartworms are indeed a type of worm or parasite, living in the blood of a dog or cat and infecting the heart and nearby blood vessels. The adult heartworms produce offspring, microfilariae, which circulate in the infected animal’s blood. When a mosquito bites an infected pet, it sucks out the infected blood. After about two weeks in the mosquito, the microfilariae become infective larvae. Then, the mosquito bites another pet and infects it with heartworms.
Canine heartworm disease prevention and treatment is effective and safe when the disease is diagnosed early. Some symptoms of advanced canine heartworm disease are listed below, but be aware: By the time these symptoms are evident, the animal is usually very ill! Seek veterinary care immediately if your pet exhibits any of the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Weight loss
- Rough hair coat
If not detected early and treated properly, heartworm disease may lead to congestive heart failure and, almost certainly, death. A simple blood test will verify the presence of heartworms. Never give heartworm prevention medication without testing first. Severe or fatal reactions may occur if preventives are given to dogs already infected with heartworms.
Feline heartworm disease is less frequent in cats but is much more serious, often fatal. There are no drugs for fighting heartworms in cats, and using canine medication leads to dangerous side effects.
There are a few indicators of heartworm disease in cats: coughing, rapid breathing, weight loss, and vomiting. These tend to be signs of a wide range of diseases, so diagnosis is often difficult. The best option is to use feline heartworm preventive for your cat. These drugs are given monthly and are effective in both cats and kittens.