Most pets are targeted by parasites at some point in their life, and in some cases they can cause significant health issues. Our team at Town and Country Animal Hospital, PC wants to provide information about some common parasitic pet diseases to help you safeguard your pet.

What pet owners should know about heartworms in pets

Heartworms are prevalent in Alabama, and facts you should know about these troublesome parasites include:

  • Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes — Baby heartworms, called microfilariae, circulate in the bloodstream of infected dogs and wild canids such as coyotes, foxes, and raccoons. Mosquitoes ingest the tiny parasites when they feed from infected animals. After the microfilariae have matured to an infective larval stage, they can be transmitted to your pet the next time the mosquito feeds. 
  • Heartworms cause significant heart and lung damage — Heartworms affect cats and dogs differently, but the parasites result in serious health issues for all pets.
  • Dogs — Dogs are considered natural hosts for heartworms, which means the parasites can mature, mate, and produce offspring while parasitizing your dog. Heartworms live in the lung vessels, causing inflammation that results in scarring and fibrosis. Over time, this causes a high resistance area that affects the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body, leading to heart failure.
  • Cats — Cats are considered atypical hosts for heartworms, and their immune system responds strongly when the parasites reach their lung tissue. The profound inflammatory response damages the lung vessels and surrounding tissue. This condition is called heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD).
  • Heartworm-infected pets may not show signs — Many affected pets don’t exhibit signs, especially in the early stages, and some pets may collapse or suddenly die. 
  • Heartworm disease is difficult to treat — Treating heartworm disease can be dangerous since the heartworms break apart, causing severe inflammation when they die. In addition, no approved treatment is available to address heartworm disease in cats.
  • Heartworm disease can be prevented — You can prevent heartworm disease by providing your pet with year-round heartworm prevention medication and getting them tested for heartworms once a year.

What pet owners should know about tick-borne illnesses

Many tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis, can cause debilitating disease in pets. Facts you should know about these diseases include:

  • Lyme disease and anaplasmosis are transmitted by the black-legged tick — The black-legged or deer tick is commonly found in Alabama, and if these parasites remain attached to your pet for 24 hours, they can transmit Lyme disease or anaplasmosis.
  • Ehrlichiosis is transmitted by the lone star tick and the American dog tick — These tick species are also commonly found in Alabama, and if they remain attached to your pet for 24 hours, they can transmit ehrlichiosis.
  • Tick-borne disease signs can be non-specific — Signs can include fever, swollen lymph nodes, lethargy, and painful joints. In severe cases, your pet may experience kidney failure, neurologic signs, and bleeding complications.
  • Tick-borne disease treatment can be prolonged — Tick-borne illnesses typically respond to a particular drug class, but treatment may take weeks or months to clear the infection.
  • Tick-borne diseases can be prevented — You can prevent tick-borne diseases by checking your pet for ticks after they are outside and by providing year-round flea and tick prevention medications. A vaccination is available for Lyme disease in dogs, and our veterinary professionals can determine if your dog would benefit from this vaccine.

What pet owners should know about intestinal parasites

Intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, whipworms, and hookworms, commonly affect pets. Facts you should know about intestinal parasites include:

  • Intestinal parasites can be transmitted in several ways — Roundworms, whipworms, and hookworms all can be transmitted by ingesting parasite eggs from a contaminated environment. In addition, hookworms and roundworms can be transmitted in utero and through the mother’s milk.
  • Intestinal parasites are most problematic for young pets — Young pets and immunocompromised pets are at highest risk for developing serious complications from intestinal parasites. Potential problems include intestinal inflammation, failure to thrive, weight loss, bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and severe anemia.
  • Intestinal parasites can be prevented — You can prevent intestinal parasites by not allowing your pet to ingest birds and small mammals, and by providing year-round parasite prevention medication. In addition, you should have your pet’s feces checked for parasites at least once a year.

What pet owners should know about fleas

Fleas are the most common external parasite found on pets, and they can cause problems year round. Facts you should know about fleas include:

  • Fleas can be hard to find — When a pet has a flea infestation, they excessively scratch, lick, chew, and rub to help get rid of the nuisance. This constant grooming can remove all parasites from your pet’s coat, making it difficult to find a flea. However, the constant grooming doesn’t remove the flea eggs in their coat and bedding, so the fleas still will be a problem.
  • Fleas can cause severe dermatitis — Many pets are allergic to flea saliva, and a bite from a single flea can result in a severe reaction. Secondary skin infections are common in affected pets if the condition is not promptly addressed.
  • Fleas can cause anemia — Fleas ingest 15 times their weight in blood, and can cause anemia in pets, especially puppies and kittens.
  • Fleas are hard to eradicate — If your pet has fleas, the parasites must be removed from their coat as well as their environment. Your home and yard may need several treatments before all fleas are eradicated.
  • Fleas can be prevented — You can prevent fleas by providing your pet with year-round flea prevention medication.

Heartworms, fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasites can be prevented by providing year-round parasite prevention medication. If your pet is due for a heartworm test or fecal check, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Town and Country Animal Hospital, PC so we can ensure they are parasite free.