A key aspect of pet wellness is dog/cat parasite prevention. Parasites such as heartworms, intestinal worms, fleas, and ticks are relatively common, but pets do not always show outward signs of infection. Our veterinarians in Wayne, NJ recommend year-round parasite prevention in addition to annual testing for heartworms and intestinal parasites to make sure your dog or cat is well protected.
Intestinal parasites include roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, and giardia. These pests are common in puppies and kittens, and often need to be treated at a puppy or kitten’s initial appointment. Worms’ eggs can be accidentally ingested or passed on to a pet that is nursing, but humans and pets alike can also unknowingly bring the eggs into their home. Dogs and cats with an intestinal parasite infestation will naturally pass worm eggs and larvae in their stool. If this stool isn’t cleaned up right away, it can result in the spread of parasites to animals and people. This makes intestinal parasite prevention essential, both for the health of your pet and the health of your human family members.
Fleas and ticks are common external parasites seen on dogs, cats, and other animals. Contrary to popular belief, fleas and ticks can be transmitted year-round – even in colder months. Many pets are usually exposed to these parasites due to proximity to other infected animals, or in yards, patios, and parks. Fleas and ticks can also be brought into the home if they hitch a ride on your pet or on your clothing.
Fleas and ticks can cause itching, hair loss, anemia, allergies, and skin infections in pets, but they can also transmit other parasites. Fleas can pass tapeworms on to pets, and ticks can spread diseases (Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Lyme disease) to pets and people. If your pet has been exposed to fleas, be sure to contact our hospital so we can help you eradicate the pests and ensure your home stays flea-free, too. Fleas can burrow into carpets and furniture and reproduce rapidly, and they are virtually invincible while in their pupa stage.
Heartworms are a potentially fatal parasite transmitted through infected mosquitoes. Common symptoms of heartworm infection in dogs include coughing, intolerance to exercise, and lethargy, but heartworm disease can also cause sudden death (particularly in cats) if it progresses far enough. Prevention with a consistent preventative and early detection testing via blood work are key to preventing, detecting, and treating heartworm disease.
Common Heartworm FAQs
Heartworms are a parasitic roundworm that certainly do not belong inside our pets. Pets may show no clinical signs in the beginning stages, however, they will become more obviously ill as it progresses. Pets may begin to show decreased appetite, weight loss, and eventually breathing problems and heart failure.
The short answer is mosquitoes. Not all mosquitoes carry heartworm, but once a mosquito has bitten a heartworm positive animal, it can spread to the animal that it feeds on. Many times, a mosquito may feed on the blood of a coyote, feral cat, or other wildlife. Which is why our pets need continuous preventatives, as carrier mosquitoes could increase at any time.
The good news is that our pets don’t directly spread heartworms to one another. However, if one of your pets has heartworms, it could be a carrier and potential source of infection to other pets in the house. That said, it’s important to have all pets tested and covered by routine care.
Yes, both cats and dogs can be infected by heartworm.
In the early stages, many dogs may have no symptoms. However, the longer the infection persists, the more likely you’ll see your pup develop symptoms. Here are some of those symptoms:
- Mild cough
- Reluctance to exercise
- Fatigue after moderate activity
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
Much like with dogs, symptoms for heartworm in cats can be severe or nearly noticeable. Here are a few things to watch for:
- Asthma attacks
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
There are a few ways that heartworms can be detected and diagnosed.
The first way to diagnose heartworm is through blood testing. This is the most common way, as the blood test is a simple evaluation for a toxin (heartworm antigen) that stimulates an immune response.
Sometimes an infection with only a few heartworms will not produce a positive blood test because the infection isn’t producing a significant amount of antigen. Ultimately, the blood test could take many more steps, such as CBC, thyroid, and other testing to produce an accurate result.
Other forms of testing include radiographs (x-rays), or echocardiograms.
The short answer: PREVENTION! PREVENTION! PREVENTION!
There are a few things that you can do to keep mosquitoes away from your pets, such as using screens or keeping windows and doors closed or limiting any stagnant water, the most effective option is keeping up to date on preventative.
Once your pet has been tested and proven negative, you can start your pet on either monthly medication or for even easier prevention with dogs, consider getting a PH-12 injection for 12 months of coverage.
No, heartworms do not have the ability to live in humans. People can still be infected with heartworm through the bite of an infected mosquito, but the parasite is not able to survive in the human bloodstream.
What do you know about parasites?