Parasites can be a huge problem for pets. There are many different types of parasites. Some are much more dangerous than others. Some can be passed between species and some cannot. There are even some parasites that can be passed to people from their pets, or to pets from their people.
Entirely Pets has put together an infographic listing what they feel are the top ten most dangerous pet parasites. The infographic is below but I’d like to make a few observations of my own also.
The most common parasites I see, particularly in puppies and kittens, are roundworms and hookworms. In fact, most puppies and kittens are born with one or both of these parasites. As a result, the current recommendation is to routinely deworm puppies and kittens for both roundworms and hookworms beginning at an early age. Your veterinarian can help you determine at which age to start (often as young as 3-4 weeks of age) and what medication is safest for your pet.
Tapeworms are probably the next most common intestinal parasite I see and/or diagnose in my veterinary practice. Though these parasites are more unsightly than dangerous in most instances, seeing the segments of these worms in their pet’s feces or on their fur tends to elicit a rather strong emotional response for most pet owners. In addition, the most common way pets get these parasites is through ingestion of fleas. So, tapeworms often indicate a flea problem as well. (There are actually two kinds of tapeworms that can be acquired by dogs and cats. One is passed through fleas, the other through ingestion of small prey animals, such as rodents.)
That brings me to my next point. Though not mentioned on the infographic, fleas are among the most common parasites I see on both dogs and cats. Fleas feed on your pet’s blood. In extreme cases, a flea infestation may be severe enough to cause anemia, especially in small animals, the very young, or debilitated pets. As already noted, fleas can carry tapeworms. They can carry other diseases as well. In addition, they can cause skin disease (dermatitis, hot spots, hair loss, etc.) At the very least, fleas can make your pet very uncomfortable. In the worst case scenario, they can be responsible for diseases that can pose a significant threat to you and your family. These diseases include plaque, typhus, cat scratch disease, and others.
Also not listed on the infographic but important to recognize as a dangerous parasite are ticks. Like fleas, ticks feed on your pet’s blood. Even more importantly, they frequently carry diseases like Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, all of which can be passed to your dog and can cause severe, sometimes even life-threatening symptoms.
Heartworms are, in my opinion, probably one of the most dangerous parasites listed on the infographic. In dogs, heartworms can be responsible for damage to the heart and blood vessels. In cats, they can cause respiratory symptoms. In both species, heartworms can be fatal.
Some of the parasites listed on the infographic, though dangerous, are not particularly common, at least not in my experience. Lungworms and stomach worms I’ve encountered only a handful of times in my practice. Flukes and threadworms I don’t believe I’ve ever diagnosed. Of course, other veterinarians in different areas may have different experiences with these parasites.
Ringworm is not, strictly speaking, a parasite. It is instead a fungal infection and I do see it on a moderately common basis. Though treatable, ringworm takes time, patience, and a great deal of attention to detail to treat successfully. It is definitely contagious to people and other pets in the household as well.
Other parasites I see with relative frequency in my practice are Giardia and coccidia. These intestinal parasites are not worms but protozoan (one-celled) parasites. They are particularly common in puppies and kittens and can cause diarrhea and sometimes vomiting. Dehydration can be a threat with these parasites, particularly in young animals.
Though some of these parasites are extremely common, many are also preventable. Talk with your veterinarian about the parasites to which your pet is most susceptible. This will vary from region to region and from pet to pet, depending on lifestyle. Then work with your veterinarian to establish a parasite prevention program for your pet, using products that are both safe and effective. In almost all cases, where possible, prevention is the preferred method of control.
Here is the promised infographic:
What parasites have you encountered in or on your pets? What were the signs?