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At some point in their life, your dog may experience the discomfort caused by parasites. Some parasites such as ticks and fleas are fairly easy to spot, but what about those that are internal and not so easy to diagnose?
It is important to know about these parasites and check for them regularly as they can become incredibly irritating to your dog and may cause serious health problems further down the line. Some parasites are also zoonotic (meaning that they can be passed on to humans), therefore should be kept on top of in order to keep the whole family healthy.
Types of Parasites in Dogs
There are two main categories of parasites in dogs: internal parasites and external parasites. These may include:
Ticks are tiny parasites from the arachnid family that latch on to your dog and drink blood. They can vary in size from 1mm up to 1cm and will usually be noticeable by running your hand over your dog’s head, neck, ears and feet. A tick bite will feel like a small bump on your dog’s skin.
Hookworms are intestinal parasites that commonly cause anemia and can be fatal, particularly in puppies, if left untreated. Hookworms are very small, but ingest a large volume of blood when attached to the intestinal wall.
Roundworms are very common in dogs and can be diagnosed with a fecal sample. There are two types of Roundworm; Toxocara Canis, and Toxascaris leonina. The former is more common in puppies and if left untreated, can cause poor growth and can be fatal. It can also be spread to humans.
Tapeworms are caused by dogs eating infected fleas, or consuming wild animals that have been infected. Once consumed, the tapeworm egg hatches and attaches to the intestinal lining.
Fleas are very common and can easily be picked up on walks or infected environments. We commonly see them when clients move into new homes that have previously had untreated pets in. Your dog’s skin may appear red and bumpy if it has fleas, especially if it has been scratching more than usual.
There are a few different types of mite infestations in dogs; canine scabies, ear mites, Demodex, and Lice (walking dandruff). Such mites are usually not a problem, unless your dog has a compromised immune system. Mites are usually treated with a simple monthly chews.
Giardia is a common intestinal parasite that affects both cats and dogs, as well as humans. It affects their ability to absorb nutrients, causing diarrhoea and weight loss. Your dog can contract Giardia via ingestion of contaminated water, faeces or eating something that has been contaminated, such as grass.
One such tick borne disease is babesiosis, a parasite which once transmitted takes time to incubate in the host before causing clinical disease. If clinical signs of the condition are exhibited then you should contact your Cheshire vets immediately. Potential signs include:-
- Poor Appetite
- Pale gums
- Red urine
- Weight loss
Why is the disease so harmful?
The parasite infects and replicates within the dogs red blood cells which damages them and causes the immune system to attempt to destroy the parasite. As a result the dog can become quite severely anaemic, sometimes requiring a blood transfusion. Diagnosis is based on assessing a blood smear for the parasite or performing a PCR test.
Is there treatment available for babesiosis?
Treatment can be challenging and depends on the type of Babesia that is diagnosed. Options available include a course of injections lasting 2-3 weeks or tablets, sometimes with the inclusion of anti-malarial drugs. There is currently no vaccination available in the UK for Babesia and tick prevention is the only way to stop disease contraction.
Borreliosis – also known as Lyme Disease
Lyme disease, also known by its scientific name borreliosis, is a bacterial infection transmitted by a certain type of tick in the UK – the ixodes tick. The condition can affect both dogs and human. In people a characteristic red rash appears around the bite which is followed by flu like symptoms and arthritis. Animals don’t exhibit the same rash and usually the first signs are lethargy and anorexia, lameness can then occur due to arthritis.
Both Babesiosis and Lyme Disease can be managed with antibiotics but prevention is far better.
Lungworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum) can be fatal to dogs and is now considered endemic in many parts of the UK, with one in five veterinary practices having reported at least one clinical case of angiostrongylosis in a dog. Lungworm it’s a killer that can’t be ignored.
The larvae of the lungworm parasite is carried and shed by slugs, snails, foxes and even frogs. Accidental (or intended) ingestion of slugs or snails, eating of grass, rummaging through undergrowth, drinking from ponds or puddles and contact with infected water bowls or toys are all risks. Once infected dogs too shed this parasite larvae in their poo.
Lungworm it’s a killer that can’t be ignored.
What are the Symptoms of Lungworm?
Lungworm infection can affect the respiratory, neurological and/or coagulation systems. It can manifest in a number of different signs, some of which can easily be overlooked.
- Coughing and/or tiring easily
- Excessive bleeding, bruising, nose bleeds or pale gums
- Vomiting, diarrhoea, weight loss or poor appetite
- Alterations in behaviour such as lethargy and seizures
Angiostrongylus vasorum is a year-round problem and is easy to prevent with a monthly spot-on treatment available from Knutsford Veterinary Surgery. The risk can also be reduced further by; picking up toys from the garden and regularly cleaning water bowls.
Symptoms of Parasites in Dogs
Symptoms of parasites will vary by type, and will also vary in severity. Whilst some symptoms are not visible to the naked eye, it’s important to routinely check for signs of discomfort and distress. If you have any concerns, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Symptoms of internal parasites in dogs
Internal parasites tend not to show symptoms until the infestation has become severe, but may include:
- Loose stools and/or diarrhoea
- Weight loss
- Distended abdomen
- Visible worms in faeces
- Respiratory issues
- Malnutrition and loss of appetite
Symptoms of external parasites in pets
Many symptoms of external parasites are clearly visible to the naked eye:
- Increased, excessive scratching
- Excessive chewing
- Red, inflamed, or discolored skin
- Hair loss
- Restless behaviour
- Large amounts of debris in your pets ears
Treatment for Parasites in Dogs
It is vital that you regularly check for parasites in your dog as, left untreated, it may cause serious health problems. Preventative care and regular faecal exams are a good way to help catch infestations in their early stages.
If you suspect that your dog has an internal parasite, immediately consult your veterinarian. They will be able to diagnose the problem and administer treatment. Although there is no single medication that treats all parasites, these may include:
- Deworming medication
- Shampoos and ointments
How to Prevent Parasites
Whilst treatments are available, it is better (and easier) to prevent parasites before they take hold.
Ticks can be found in most outdoor places in the UK, they are more common in areas with wildlife, in particular deer and farm animals. They often sit on longer grasses waiting for an animal to walk past, giving them opportunity to attach. Once attached they bury their heads in the skin and start feeding on an animal’s blood.
It is really important to remove a tick using the correct technique, pulling the tick off will often leave the mouth parts imbedded in the skin and squeezing the ticks abdomen to remove it can inject infected blood back into your dog. Using a tick remover to twist the tick to encourage it to remove the mouth parts is the safest way, however preventing blood feeding in the first place is the only way to prevent tick borne diseases.
Protecting our dogs from picking up a tick in the first place has become a lot easier more recently. With the administration of a chewy treat (Bravecto) every 3 months your dog will be protected against ticks and fleas. This is ideal if your dog often swims as other products can be washed off.
Check with your vet which parasites are particularly problematic in your area and administer preventative medication year-round to reduce the risk of infection.
Regularly monitor your dog for symptoms
Keep an eye on your dog’s health and regularly check for symptoms of parasites. Consult with your veterinarian if you have any concerns.
Keep your home clean
To reduce the risk of contracting parasites we recommend cleaning your pet’s bedding, food and water bowls at least weekly, as well as cleaning the lawn of faeces every few days. Similarly, pick up your dog’s faeces during walks to reduce the risk of passing on parasites to other dogs.
Annual veterinary check-ups
Preventative care is vital to ensure that any parasites and infections are caught early and treated effectively.