External Parasites – Fleas
Myth: Cats and dogs will scratch when they have fleas. This is false! Only pets with flea allergies will scratch. Only one third of pets have a flea bite allergy, therefore, the majority of pets will not feel the need to scratch when bitten by a flea. The flea bite allergy leads to fur loss, scabs, and hot spots as well as the itchiness.
“Flea dirt” is actually flea poop! Flea dirt looks like dark brown or black specks of dirt. It is usually found on the back of the pet, near the tail. A flea comb is a fine-toothed comb you can use to find flea dirt if you suspect your pet may have fleas.
Pets that have fleas often get tapeworms as well as skin problems and cat scratch fever. In severe cases, fleas can cause a pet to become anemic. It can be hard to see fleas on a pet unless there is a heavy infestation. This is due to the fact that only 5% of the flea life stages on your pet, and in your home, are in the adult stage, and therefore visible.
Flea shampoos, dips, sprays, and collars are not recommended because they do not efficiently control the flea population, and can be very harmful to the pet, especially cats and small dogs. Many of these products contain Pyrethrins or Permethrins which are toxic when used in high volumes. It is risky for your pets, as well as you, to use these products. Never apply a flea product to your cat that is meant for a dog, and take care to never use multiple over the counter flea products on your pet at the same time. Toxic overdoses are common with over the counter products due to the Pyrethrin and/or Permethrin that they contain.
Myth: fleas cannot survive in the cold. The truth is that fleas are present year round in this area. They will not die off in the winter months unless it is freezing temperatures for several weeks in a row. Fleas and flea infestations are an ongoing epidemic that we see evidence of on a daily basis.
A single flea lays 40 eggs each day! These eggs end up in your house and yard, as well as on your pet, and become the source for future infestations. The life cycle of the flea includes a pupae (cocoon) stage, which is highly resistant to pesticides. This stage of the flea can be dormant in your house for many months while waiting for a food source, your pet, to come along. It is important that you keep your pet protected year round to protect them against this stage. Prevention is MUCH easier than treating the fleas once they become a problem.
Intestinal parasites include worms, protozoa or abnormal bacteria. Pets can be born with worms, get them from the environment, and/or ingest them.
Tapeworms appear as small “rice-like” grains on or around your pet’s anus. Your pet becomes infected with tapeworms when they ingest a flea that is infected with tapeworms. So, if your pet has tapeworms you can assume he/she has fleas (and vise versa). Tapeworms are more of a nuisance and “gross” factor than anything else, but if you find your pet has them, he/she should be de-wormed. Products such as Revolution, Heartgard, and Sentinel do NOT treat tapeworms.
Roundworms appear as “spaghetti-like” worms in your pet’s stool. They range in size, depending on the maturity of the worm. Roundworms are usually passed through the mother’s milk and/or blood. Your pet can also get them from other fecal matter in the environment. If your pet has roundworms, he/she should be de-wormed. Heartgard, Revolution, and Sentinel will prevent roundworms.
Hookworms cannot be seen with the naked eye. It is for this reason that it is important to submit a fecal sample to your vet every year. They can be detected with a microscope.
Giardia cannot be seen with the naked eye and is rarely detected without specialized laboratory equipment, which is another reason you need to submit a stool sample to us every year.
Heartworm disease can be very serious and difficult to treat. Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes. They can spread the disease when they bite a pet. The Portland Metro area is not an area that currently has a high incidence of heartworm disease, however, dogs that travel or go hiking are at a higher risk of infection. Cats in this area are not currently considered a high risk for heartworm.
It is important for your pet to be tested PRIOR to starting a preventative. It can be very risky or even deadly to give a dog heartworm prevention if it already has the disease. Heartworm testing can be done as soon as the pet is 6 months of age. It takes 6 months for a heartworm to mature and, therefore, be detected. Revolution, Sentinel, and Heartgard will prevent heartworm.
- Heartgard – Once a month chewable treat that prevents heartworm disease and many intestinal parasites.
- Interceptor – Once a month oral tablet that prevents heartworm disease and many intestinal parasites.
- Sentinel – Once a month oral tablet. It is a combination of 2 other preventatives called Interceptor (de-wormer) and Program (flea preventative).
- Revolution – Once a month topical liquid applied to the skin. It prevents heartworm as well as fleas, ticks, mites, and other intestinal parasites. It is the only product that does NOT require a heartworm test before starting.
If you miss a dose of prevention, it is important to retest your pet’s blood for heartworms before giving the late dose.
Other Internal Parasites
There are more forms of intestinal parasites that your pet can come in contact with. These can be detected at the lab when their stool sample is sent in. People (especially kids) can get parasites from pets. This can cause severe illness in children, but is easy to prevent with the following recommendations:
- Have your pet’s stool checked at least once a year for parasites.
- Pick up all stools from your yard and litter boxes frequently (at least once per day). If these stools remain in the pet’s environment, there is a greater risk of the pet becoming infected or re-infected with parasites.
- Wash your hands after handling any fecal contaminated items.
- Keep your pet clean, and do not allow fecal matter to accumulate on long fur on the rear of your pet. A “beauty shave” can be done by a groomer or veterinary technician to prevent this.
- Do not allow your pet to ingest feces that they may find on their walks.
- Use a monthly preventative, such as Revolution, for cats; Heartgard or Sentinel should be used for dogs. These products prevent intestinal parasites such as roundworms and hookworms; they will not prevent or treat tapeworms.
- Children’s sand boxes make wonderful litter boxes for stray cats and, therefore, become the most likely place for children to pick up harmful parasites. Please keep sand boxes covered when not in use, or do not use them at all.