Naturally curious, many pets sniff and explore other animals and objects, unaware they may expose themselves to potentially harmful parasites and conditions. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, 1 in 100 dogs tested positive for heartworm in 2022, and more than 1 in 4 indoor cats were positive for heartworm infection.
External parasites – including fleas, ticks and mites found outdoors or on other animals – and internal parasites such as heartworms, roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms and whipworms can wreak havoc on your pet’s health and well-being. These parasites can feed on dogs and cats, causing health issues that range from minor skin irritation to severe organ damage and even death if left untreated. Some parasites can also be contracted by people, making diagnosis and prevention even more important.
Though prevention is the best approach, treatment is sometimes required. Intervention is most effective when started immediately after a parasite is detected. Work with your veterinarian to tailor a program specific to your dog or cat’s breed, age, behaviors and environmental factors, and consider these tips from the experts at VCA Animal Hospitals, which has more than 1,000 locations across North America that cared for more than 4 million pets last year, to help prevent parasites in your pets.
Provide preventative medications. Based on their specific risk factors, dogs and cats should be on year-round parasite control programs that treat infections such as heartworms, intestinal parasites, fleas, ticks and more. Parasite prevention medication options range from topical to injectable and oral.
Visit the vet annually. Yearly visits allow your veterinarian to take note of changes in your pet’s health and alter his or her parasite control program as necessary. Your vet can tell you which parasites to watch for based on your location, how these parasites can be transmitted, and which preventative products are most appropriate. Additionally, newer, more accurate parasite tests can also identify parasite strains that may affect people and pets. Remember, dogs and cats age faster than humans, so annual exams with diagnostic testing are the equivalent of humans visiting the doctor every 4-5 years.
Watch for warning signs of parasites. Some pets infected with a parasite don’t show any signs of illness. However, common signs of infection include diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite or blood in your pet’s stools. Coughing or difficulty breathing may also accompany heartworms. Also consult your veterinarian if your pet excessively scratches, chews or licks his or her coat or ears, or persistently shakes his or her head. Seeing your vet as soon as possible can get your pet treatment and help prevent spreading the parasite to other animals. Puppies and kittens are especially at risk for parasites since most contract them from their mothers while nursing and their small size puts them at greater risk for severe illness.
Groom regularly. To reduce the risk of coat contamination and increase the likelihood of catching fleas, ticks and coat abnormalities quickly, be sure to periodically groom your pet, or have him or her professionally groomed. It is particularly important to inspect your dog or cat after playing outside or with other pets.
Clean up after your pet. Since most intestinal parasites spread through contact with feces, it’s crucial to dispose of any waste in your yard or pet’s litter box within 24 hours to avoid exposure and reduce the risk of environmental parasite contamination. A contaminated yard can be a source of exposure for many months as parasites can live in the soil for extended periods of time.
Find more tips for parasite prevention and treatment at VCAhospitals.com.