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Parasites | Internal Parasites | External Parasites


Parasites are organisms that derive nourishment by feeding on or within another animal. The most noted parasites in dogs are “worms,” because the majority of all puppies acquire intestinal worms either prior to or shortly after birth. All parasites can result in damage to your pet’s health. Similarly, some can be transferred from the dog to other household animals, including humans.

Internal parasites
Internal parasites usually live in a dog’s digestive tract and are detected by an examination of the stool. Treatment for worms and parasites can begin at the age of two weeks and be repeated every two or three weeks as determined by your veterinarian. Repeat treatments are necessary to kill any larvae that were migrating during the first treatment and have come back to the intestine. Most researchers believe puppies are infested with roundworms and hookworms from their mother, so many veterinarians administer worming medication to all puppies.

Roundworms (Ascarids) – These are the most common parasite of the digestive tract in dogs. Most puppies are infested with roundworms that are transmitted from the mother to her pups before birth or during nursing. Adult worms are white, round worms, coiled into disks that may grow two to five inches long. They may appear in the stool or vomit. Animals with mild infestations of roundworms may not show any signs of the disease. Animals with more severe infestations may be thin, have dull hair coats, and develop a pot-bellied appearance. Other symptoms include stunted growth, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and sometimes a cough caused by the migration of the larvae through the respiratory system.

Hookworms – This is one of the most dangerous of all intestinal parasites. The hookworm can be transmitted from mothers to pups before birth and during nursing. The worm is too small to be seen with the naked eye. The worm fastens itself onto the walls of the dog’s small intestine. Symptoms include lethargy, anemia, weakness, poor appetite, and bloody diarrhea.< /p>

Whipworm – This parasite attaches itself into the lower end of a dog’s digestive tract and, when mature, begins to reproduce. They are very thin and threadlike, less than an inch long, and shaped like a whip. They are hard to detect with the naked eye. These worms are transmitted when a dog licks infected ground. Symptoms include severe, bloody diarrhea streaked with mucus, weakness, anemia and weight loss.

Tapeworm – The larvae of this parasite are introduced when the dog eats an infected insect (flea) or from eating raw fish, beef or pork. Tapeworms mature in the intestine, and when mature, the segments detach and pass out the anus. The segments are off-white and flat, and move in a back-and-forth motion. They may be seen attached to the hair around the anus, in the stool or on bedding. The dried-out segments look like rice granules. Symptoms include weight loss and occasional diarrhea. Mature tapeworms feed from the intestine, causing the dog to eat more than normal without any weight gain. To prevent re-infestation, the dog should be free of fleas when he is treated for tapeworm.

Coccidia – To avoid these organisms, which can live in a dog’s intestines, make sure your dog doesn’t eat raw or undercooked meat. Infected animals shed the parasite in their feces and are too small to be seen with the naked eye. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, fever, weight loss and lack of appetite. Sometimes, the dog will show no symptoms.

Heartworm (Dirofilaria) – This parasite is transmitted by a carrier mosquito and lives in the right side of the dog’s heart and the large blood vessels connecting the heart to the lungs. After biting an infected animal, the mosquito hosts tiny larvae called microfilariae. In two to three weeks, microfilariae develop into larger larvae in the mosquito and migrate to the mosquito’s mouth. When the mosquito bites another animal, the larvae enter the animal’s skin where they live for three months and grow to a size of 3 inches. The larvae then migrate to the heart when they grow into adults. The worms are slender, white roundworms that are 5 to 12 inches long. Diagnosis is made with a blood test. Symptoms include weight loss despite a healthy appetite, anemia, coughing, heavy breathing, tires easily, swollen abdomen and legs, and severe heart, lung and liver damage leading to death. Heartworm is difficult to cure, but easy to prevent with medication from your veterinarian.

External Parasites
Internal parasites aren’t the only parasites your dog has to contend with. There are numerous insects that live on a dog’s body such as ticks, fleas, mites, lice, and flies. They can cause severe itching, skin infections, and internal problems, such as tapeworms and anemia. They are diagnosed by physical examination and skin tests. There are many types of products available to help combat and prevent external parasite infestations, including: once-a-month topical insecticides, sprays, powders, dips, shampoos, collars, and oral or injectable products. Never buy these products at random as certain combinations of insecticides can be harmful to your puppy or dog. Consult your veterinarian for a safe and effective plan for controlling external parasites on your dog.

Fleas – Fleas are the most common problem dog owners face. Worldwide, there are over 2,000 species of fleas. Fleas are important because of the direct effects they have on animals and people, and because of the diseases they can transmit. They prefer to live separately and do not interbreed, but their complex life cycle makes an infestation difficult to ward off.

There are four stages in the development of fleas: eggs, larvae, pupae and adults. Male and female fleas mate and two days later, the female flea starts laying eggs. The eggs are often laid on the animal host, but because they are not sticky, fall into the animal’s environment. Along with eggs, the female flea deposits a large amount of feces. The feces, or flea dirt, will dissolve into a red color when moistened because it is primarily digested blood. The flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day, generally in batches of 3 to 15. A flea can produce 400-1,000 eggs in her lifetime (several months to two years, depending on the species).

In two days or more (depending on the temperature) after the egg is laid, it hatches and the larvae, which looks like a small maggot, starts to feed on the feces left by its mother. During the next week, the larvae passes through several phases of development. At that time the larvae starts spinning a cocoon and is called a pupa. The cocoon is sticky and
will often become covered with dirt or sand, and can be found deep in carpet or cracks and crevices. In a week, the pupa develops into an adult and emerges from the cocoon when it senses vibration, pressure, heat, noise or carbon dioxide. The entire life cycle takes about 15 days, but the pupae can remain dormant under inhospitable conditions (such as cold) and extend the cycle to over a year. The pupae’s hardiness makes re-infestation a common problem even after you’ve treated both your home and pet. Once the adult fleas emerge from the cocoon, they must find a warm-blooded host within a few days or they will die, and adults can’t lay eggs without that nourishing blood meal.
Any dog older than six months of age can develop an allergy to flea saliva. Adult fleas are thin, wingless, brown insects that are extraordinary jumpers and move through the hair coat rapidly. The flea injects its saliva under the dog’s skin as an aid in retrieving its meal (the dog’s blood). The saliva acts as foreign material that can cause your pet to itch and bite itself profusely. Even people can be bitten by hungry fleas; their favorite human areas are ankles and waists, and the bites are very itchy.

Hair loss and skin infection are characteristic, especially on the lower back, neck, and inner thighs, favored flea-feeding sites. The hair loss usually has a pattern: a triangular patch on the lower back and patches at the tail base, on the neck, and on the inner thighs. You may even see fleas jumping or moving in these areas. Flea dropping are the black specks (digested blood) found primarily on the hairs of the lower back. To test, place the droppings on white paper and moisten them with water. If they turn red, they are flea droppings; if not, they are simply dirt.

Attempting to control flea infestation is a multi-step process. You must remove the fleas from the indoor and outdoor environment, remove the fleas from the animal and keep the fleas away to prevent future infestations. Adult fleas spend most of their time on an animal, but the eggs, larvae and pupae are found in the environment, such as carpeting, bedding and grass. Vacuum thoroughly on a weekly basis (especially where your pet sleeps): rugs, upholstery, under the beds and furniture, cracks and crevices, and closets, and so forth. Throw the vacuum bags away after vacuuming to prevent the fleas from hatching in your vacuum. Seal the bag and toss it in an outside garbage bin with a lid as soon as you’re done vacuuming. Wash the dog’s bedding in soap and hot water. If you cannot wash the bedding, throw it away. Finally, a commercial insecticide should be sprayed around your house periodically for a few months. You may think you have eliminated all the fleas when suddenly they are back. It may be that a number of pupae lying dormant have hatched. Don't forget to also clean and treat your automobile, pet carrier, garage, or any other place where your pet spends a lot of his time. For flea control in the outdoor environment, use a professional exterminator. Canister sprayers and over the counter flea control outdoor sprays can be purchased at home and garden stores. Follow the instructions carefully. And finally, if you have more than one pet, you must treat all the animals in the household or the fleas will jump from host to host.

Ticks – Ticks are arachnids, a relative to the spider, and are common external parasites. There are approximately 850 species of ticks worldwide. Ticks are classified into two families based on their structure. The family Argasidae contains the argasid ticks, which are soft-shelled. Their head is on the underside of their body and, when viewed from above, the head cannot be seen. The other tick family is Ixodidae. These ticks have a hard outer covering and are more commonly found than the soft-shelled variety. All ticks have three pairs of legs during the immature stage and four pairs as an adult. Ticks can crawl, but are wingless, so they cannot fly. Ticks possess a sensory apparatus called Haller’s organ. This allows them to sense odor, humidity, and you or your pet. They climb upon tall grass and when they sense an animal is close by, they crawl on. A tick’s diet consists of blood and only blood. The tick imbeds its mouthparts into the animal’s (or human’s) skin and sucks the blood. Except for the eggs, ticks require a blood meal to progress to each stage in their life cycle.

Most ticks are referred to as three host ticks, that is, during their development, which takes two years, they feed on three different hosts. All ticks have four stages to their life cycle: egg, larvae, nymph, and adult. The female tick lies between 3,000 and 5,000 eggs. The eggs hatch one or two months later. The next phases in the development of the tick, larval and nymph, may last quite a long time because different ticks need different hosts to feed on. In the dormant stages, the tick can wait for months, or even hibernate during winter, under bushes, in the ground, or in your home until a suitable host comes along.

Ticks can be found almost anywhere and in almost any climate, but are mostly found in damp places, grassy or bushy areas, wooded areas, sandy beaches, and places where infested animals have been. Ticks are most active during spring, summer, and early fall, but can survive in temperatures below freezing. Since dogs frequent areas where ticks live, they are the most affected. Many serious diseases can be transmitted through ticks: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (dog tick), Lyme Disease (deer tick), Ehrlichiosis, Typhus, Tick Paralysis, and other illnesses. Humans can suffer from many of the same diseases animals contract from ticks. However, your pets cannot pass along the disease to you. You must come in direct contact with the tick in order to contract any disease.
Protect your pet from ticks with a prevention program and use products that are specifically designed to repel ticks (collars, sprays, dips, and powders). Make sure you have killed any ticks that may be hiding in your home and by treating your yard and nearby wooded areas. Remember that many wild animals, such as deer, field mice and even birds, carry ticks. If you live in an area known for ticks, check your pets regularly (especially those that spend time outdoors) and treat your yard and nearby wooded areas frequently to control any new tick infestation. By killing the ticks on the dog, in the house, and in the yard, you will be able to stop the tick cycle. Regular maintenance will help prevent reinfestation.

Ticks can be found anywhere on the skin, but they prefer areas such as the inside of the ears, between the toes and foot pads, head, neck and shoulders, so pay special attention to these areas. Carefully do a tick check on both you and your pet if you have spent time in a tick infested area. If you find any ticks, remove them immediately. If you have ticks in the house, you will need to remove anything that might offer a hiding place: old boxes, newspapers, stored firewood. Apply a product that gets under furniture and into cracks and crevices. Foggers can be used for an overall general treatment. If you have ticks in the yard, cut back any tall grass around your house. Ticks like to congregate several feet off the ground on vegetation along paths and roadsides. By trimming grass and weeds to below ankle height, ticks won't have a good vantage point and will have fewer opportunities to attach themselves to you or your pet. Ticks also like leaves and vegetation. Check around doghouses, kennels and other areas where your pet likes to sleep. If possible, stack firewood away from the house. Ticks can crawl up vertical objects, so treat not only the ground, but surfaces up to three or four feet.

Tick Removal - Since humans can get diseases from ticks, it is best not to remove the tick with your bare fingers. Use tweezers or a tick removal instrument. To safely remove a tick:

Swelling and irritation may occur after the tick is removed. This is a reaction to the toxic saliva of the tick, not due to the head remaining in the wound (which rarely happens if you grasp the head of the tick during removal). Do not try to remove a tick by burning it off as this is ineffective and you could burn your dog. Do not use petroleum jelly as this does not cause the tick to back out, and may actually cause the tick to deposit more disease-carrying saliva into the wound. Flushing a tick down the toilet will not kill it. Do not squish the tick with your fingers as the contents of the tick can transmit disease.

Lice – Lice are very small white oval insects that are best seen with a magnifying glass. They feed on your pet’s blood, are spread through direct contact and cause severe itching. They spend their whole life cycle on the pet. Fortunately, lice are not seen very often on dogs.

There are a variety of shampoos that contain chemicals that kill lice and fleas. Wash your pet with the medicated shampoo once a week for three weeks. To make sure the treatment is most effective, leave the shampoo on the coat for three to five minutes before rinsing. In addition to shampooing your pet, follow up by spraying him twice a week with an over-the-counter lice or flea spray. Sprays kill any new lice that happen to hatch between shampoos. There are also powders you can use, although they aren't as effective as sprays. Apply the powder generously from head to toe (and tail). When applying to your pet's face, however, rub gently with your fingers to avoid getting it in his eyes or nose. You must also treat the source of the lice. Treat your floors and carpets, and your pet's bedding to prevent reinfestation once your pet is lice free. Also, grooming tools and kennels or pet carriers should also be scrubbed clean with either a mild bleach solution or with soap and water.

Mange Mites – Mange is caused by microscopic insects living in the skin or hair follicles, and are not visible to the naked eye. The most common types of mange mites are demodectic and sarcoptic. Demodectic mites live in the hair follicles and are much more common in dogs than in cats. They cause skin lesions with bare spots or pustular areas. Sarcoptic mites, or scabies, lay their eggs in tunnel-like formations under the skin. The dog scratches and rubs; the skin becomes dry, thickened and wrinkled; the hair falls out; and crusts form. The itching is severe. Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious to other animals and humans. Only a vet can tell which type of mange your pet has, so it is important to get a checkup at the first sign of mange.

Ear Mites – Ear mites are tiny, eight-legged pests that live in ear canals of dogs and cats, although they can spread to other parts of the body. They are extremely contagious and the mites are easily spread to other pets within the household including cats, dogs, rabbits, etc. Humans are not affected. Dogs or cats with ear mites will scratch around their ears and/or shake their heads. The amount of scratching and shaking depends on the severity of the infestation. With more advanced infestation, the ear canals will bleed and either fresh or dried blood will appear inside the canal. The dried blood resembles coffee grounds. If you look into your pet’s ears and notice a buildup of material that looks like coffee grounds, your pet probably has ear mites. Left untreated, ear mites can severely damage the ear canals and eardrum and can cause permanent hearing loss. Your vet will have to check the discharge under a microscope to identify an ear mite infection.

Ringworm – Ringworm is a very contagious fungus that can infect dogs, cats and humans. It usually appears as a ring-shaped, hairless, scaly area surrounded by an outer area that is red. Lesions are most common on the head, but can also occur on the legs, feet or tail. The condition can often appear like, and be confused with, demodectic mange. The fungus is most commonly found either on or in the living quarters of infected animals. Spores from the infected animals can be shed into the environment and live for over 18 months. These spores can be found on an infected animal, grooming equipment or brushes, in a boarding facility or kennel, or in the environment where an infected animal has visited. Because of the spore’s ability to survive for long periods of time, your dog can contract ringworm anywhere other dogs or cats have been. If you suspect your pet has ringworm, see your vet immediately to prevent the fungus from spreading

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