Pets and Parasites

Pets and Parasites

What's Bugging Your Pet?

Let’s get real: your pet may very well be carrying some parasites and you don’t know it. Some of these pesky parasites are external, others are internal — and harder to spot.

It’s important to pay attention to any indicators that your dog or cat may have a problem. The first step: preventive treatment. This alone can help prevent your pet from falling prey to a parasite and save both of you a lot of hassle and discomfort.

It’s also imperative to discuss whether your demographic location is “endemic” and “nonendemic” — and whether or not a flurry of recent diagnoses has changed that classification for your area (in other words, don’t presume that because your neck of the woods has always been considered free of heartworms that this hasn’t changed in the past year or so).

Discussing parasitic preventive care with your veterinarian is key: Testing and proper dosage amounts are necessary to determine your pet's individual parasitic treatment or preventive care needs. You may think that dewormer at the pet store will solve your problem, but you may end up treating your pet for the wrong parasite.

Internal Parasites


Parasites tapeworm

These flat worms consist of a head, neck and numerous segments with their own reproductive systems. They can grow up to 8 inches long. The cycle begins when a flea eats tapeworm larvae; the ingested eggs then develop into immature tapeworms inside the fleas. Pets become infected when they swallow a flea that contains the immature tapeworm. After the flea is ingested, the tapeworm is released from the flea and then anchors itself to the pet’s intestinal lining. Segments of the worm break off and appear in the pet's stool or around the rectum. Dried tape worm segments look like a piece of rice or sesame seed. Immediate treatment is recommended along with eliminating fleas from the pet and environment.

A specific dewormer prescribed for your pet can treat your pet and kill the tapeworm. If not treated, can lead to digestive upset, poor hair and skin, and weight loss.


Heartworms are parasitic worms that can ultimately become infested inside a pet's heart if not caught in time. Infection can take place any time of year. Heartworms are spread by infected mosquitoes that bite pets; the larvae infiltrate the pet's bloodstream and then mature into worms inside the heart, where they live and infestation takes place if not treated.

Preventive care is highly recommended, especially for cats, for which there is no approved treatment upon infection. If left untreated, heartworms can be fatal to pets.

It’s important not to miss a treatment cycle if your pet has been tested and prescribed preventive care. Starting treatment after missing a cycle without your pet being tested again could lead to serious health issues. If you have missed a heartworm treatment, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to take the necessary steps to restarting preventive care.

Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild cough, fatigue, vomiting and abdominal swelling.


Parasites roundworms

Roundworms are common in puppies and kittens where contraction is from the mother before birth or from her milk. Pets can also become infected through the ingestion of roundworm eggs, which are found in the environment (e.g. soil, water, etc), vomit or stool of other infected animals or pets. When consumed, the roundworm hatches and the larvae spread into your pet’s liver and into the windpipe. Coughing then pushes the swallowed larvae into the intestine where they grow and lay their own eggs. Preventive care and treatment is available.

Infected pets can have abdominal swelling, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. Preventive care and treatment is available.

External Parasites


The size of a pinhead, this pesty parasite’s bites can be very itchy for pets; excessive scratching can lead to skin infection. Fleas can live a few weeks on your pet and lay 20-30 eggs a day. These eggs can hatch into larvae on your pet and in your home.

Preventive care for your pet and treating your home environment is crucial to keeping both flea-free. If you notice your pet scratching and licking frequently, have your pet checked for fleas.


Parasites tick

These bloodsuckers are most prevalent in the spring and fall and are difficult to remove. Pets are exposed while at the dog park or on nature trails, by other animals in your yard and, although less common, by people unknowingly carrying them. Sometimes, ticks are mistaken for moles. Check your pet's body, particularly the paws, legs, armpits and belly for small brown or black "bumps" immediately following a hike or playtime in a park or wilderness area.

Ticks can cause serious diseases after biting pets, including Lyme disease. Use preventive treatment such as spot-on or oral medications, shampoos, tick dips and tick collars. If you don’t know how to properly remove a tick, get help from your veterinarian. The tick’s head is stubbornly embedded in your pet; improper removal can result in only a partial extraction.

Discuss parasitic prevention and treatment with your veterinarian before starting a prevention program at home.

Testing and proper dosage amounts are necessary to determine your pet’s parasitic treatment or preventive care needs.