Have you ever have wondered what type of parasite could be living in/on your cat or dog and what you can do to prevent them? April is national heartworm awareness month, so let’s take a look at all the different types of parasites there are and what preventions you can get to avoid them.
What are parasites?
Parasites can be confusing and surprising to learn your furry friend has, but the first piece to understanding them is to identify three different categories of parasites. The first type is an internal parasite called heartworms, this type of parasite is passed to pets by a single mosquito bite. Once the infected mosquito bites the pet, the microfilariae (which are microscopic baby worms) travel through the bloodstream and into the heart and lungs. When the baby worms have reached their destination they mature and can begin to clog up the heart, leading to serious complications and even death. But there is good news, heartworms can be easily prevented in dogs and cats through monthly preventions which are either topical, oral, or injectable.
The next type of parasites affecting dogs and cats are intestinal parasites, such as roundworm, whipworm, tapeworms, coccidia, giardia, and spirochetes, some of which can also be passed to humans. These types of parasites can live inside your pets digestive system, and cause complications like diarrhea, weight loss, and vomiting. Intestinal parasites can be passed in different ways, tapeworms for example can come from ingesting a host (often fleas) who is caring the parasites egg. While other internal parasites like roundworms are spread from coming in contact with infected feces. The only way to test for internal parasites is to have an intestinal parasite screening done by your veterinarian. Once diagnosed your veterinarian can prescribe medications to kill the parasites and recommend long-term prevention to keep the issue from returning.
The last type of parasites are external parasites, these include fleas, ticks, and mites. Living on the surface of your pet, external parasites can be easier to see with the naked eye. External parasites can feed and reproduce on your pet. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) a single female flea can produce up to 50 eggs in a 24 hour time period. These external parasites while irritating to you and your pet, can also lead to skin infections, allergic reactions, and hair loss.
What types of preventions are out there?
The good news about parasites is they can often be easily prevented by a variety of different types of preventions. Currently, there are three main types of prevention: topical, oral, and injectable. Choosing which is best depends on what type of parasites you want to prevent. Topical preventions are applied directly to your pet’s skin and should be reapplied monthly to every three months depending on the brand. Topical preventions have a range of what type of parasites they can prevent, such as fleas, ticks, heartworm, and some species of intestinal parasites based on the brand. Oral preventions come in pill and chew form, with a range of different textures and flavors. Oral preventions also vary in what they protect your pet from. Depending upon the type, they may protect against fleas, heartworms, internal parasites, and/or ticks. Similar to topical preventions they must be used monthly to every three months. The last type of prevention is an injectable heartworm prevention, which can only be given by your veterinarian. Injectable preventions often only protect against heartworm disease and each injection last about six months. Ultimately in deciding what prevention is best for your pet, you should speak with your veterinarian about what they recommend.