Yuck! Parasites often gross us out. Worms, ticks, lice, fleas, mites, the list goes on. While pets provide us so many health benefits (they have been shown to reduce stress, blood
pressure, and depression) and are a part of our family, they can sometimes pass
disease to us. We all know the importance of vaccinations to our pets health, but many people don't realize that exposure to parasites can happen every day, even in our backyard. Preventing parasites is very important not only for our pets health, but also for our health, as some of these parasites can get transmitted to humans.
Our pets get parasites through various means. Each parasite has a specific life cycle and has developed a method of transmission to its host, our dogs and cats. Some parasites feed externally on our pets, such as fleas, ticks, and mites. These parasites tend to cause itching, hair loss, inflammation of the skin, and sometimes anemia. Many worms are passed from animal to animal through feces containing eggs, which are then ingested by another animal causing infection. A wide range of intestinal worms can cause diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, poor coat, or no signs at all. Other parasites can infect the blood and are passed through an insect bite. These parasites, such as heartworm, can cause severe health problems in pets.
Parasites that can be passed from animals to humans are called zoonotic diseases. People most susceptible to these parasites include children under the age of 5, elderly, and people immunosuppressed because of drugs or disease. The most common zoonotic parasites in this area include roundworms, giardia, and toxoplasmosis. These can all be contracted via infected feces. A dog or cat with diarrhea will have fecal contamination of the fur and parasite eggs are too small to be seen without a microscope.
So what can you do? There are a number of precautions you and your family should make:
1) Avoid feeding raw food to your pets as raw food has been shown in multiple veterinary studies to be contaminated with numerous parasites and bacteria, which then contaminate their food bowls and are passed in their feces.
2) Wash hands thoroughly before eating and before children stick their hands in
3) Pick up after your dog to prevent contamination of your yard.
4) Scoop the litter box daily to prevent the infective stage of Toxoplasmosis.
5) Prevent your cat from hunting by keeping cats indoors, as even well fed cats will hunt.
6) Sandboxes should be covered and always wear gloves when gardening as cats
commonly use these areas as toilets.
7) Have your pets on a monthly heartworm preventative, which are safe, broad spectrum dewormers available from your veterinarian.
8) Cats and dogs should be on flea preventative year round as it does not get cold enough here to kill fleas, and fleas will transmit tapeworms.
9) Finally, your pet should have a fecal test to check for intestinal parasites multiple times during the first year for puppies and kittens (who most commonly have parasites) and once to twice yearly after one year of age.
For more information on specific parasites and how to protect your family and pets, go to the Companion Animal Parasite Council at www.petsandparasites.org. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations on flea and heartworm preventatives.
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