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A parasite is an organism that lives in another organism, called the host. For the purpose of this article, the host is the dog. Many times the parasite requires the dog to live and can cause harm to the dog.
There are many types of parasites that can affect dogs including ones that live on or in the skin, in the gastrointestinal tract, or in the blood.
Types of Dog Parasites (Intestinal, Fleas, Ticks, Heartworms)
Common canine parasites include the following:
- There are many kinds of internal parasites that can infect dogs including roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, coccidia, and giardia. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and anemia. The most common intestinal parasite in dogs is the roundworm (also known as ascarids) that infest nearly every puppy at birth as they are passed from mother to young. Tapeworms are common from flea infestations and whipworm (Trichuris vulpis) infections can cause severe problems in dogs. Some worms can be seen in the stool such as tapeworms and roundworms while others require a fecal examination using a microscope. At least yearly fecal testing is recommended in dogs.
- Fleas are a type of parasite that lives on the skin and bites dogs to obtain a blood meal. Dogs with fleas will scratch themselves and dogs who are allergic to fleas will develop hair loss and skin infections. Fleas can also spread disease. Learn more about The Dangers of Fleas in Dogs.
- Ticks can attach themselves to dogs and insert their mouthparts into the skin to obtain a blood meal. Ticks can be attached for days and as they obtain their blood meal, transmit life-threatening infections such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis. Learn more about The Dangers of Ticks in Dogs.
- Heartworms have the potential to cause serious illness in dogs including heart failure. Heartworms are spread from the bite of a mosquito that is carrying a heartworm larva. Signs of heartworm disease in dogs include lethargy, anorexia or a decreased appetite, exercise intolerance, coughing, and/or difficulty breathing. Learn more about Canine Heartworm Disease.
Parasite Prevention for Dogs
While parasitic infections can be treated, prevention is better. Parasite prevention is important for the health, wellbeing, and comfort of your dog.
Parasite prevention tips include:
- Intestinal parasites can be prevented by routine deworming in puppies and by yearly fecal examinations and treated based on the results. In addition, many types of heartworm prevention medications will concurrently treat intestinal parasites and prevent flea infestations. Another way to control parasite infestations is to keep your yard and kennel clean by promptly removing fecal piles.
- Fleas and ticks can be prevented by several prevention medications and collars. Examples of flea products include Program® (lufenuron), Sentinel®, Capstar® nitenpyram, Frontline®, Advantage® Revolution®, and Preventic®. Learn more about Flea Control and Prevention. Examples of tick prevention medications include the Seresto® collar and Bravecto. This is a vaccine available for Lyme Disease in dogs.
- Preventing Heartworm Disease. Preventing heartworm disease is easier and much preferred to treating life-threatening heartworm infections. Please see “Heartworm Prevention Guidelines for Dogs.”
Not all parasitic diseases can be prevented but many can be treated. Mites are parasites that can cause serious illness in your dog. For more information, see Ear Mites in Dogs, Sarcoptic Mange, Demodicosis, and Cheyletiellosis.
Frequency of Parasite Prevention Recommendations
Depending on your area of the country, parasite prevention recommendations vary from monthly year-round to monthly only during the summer months. This is dependent on the weather and climate in your area.
The recommendations for parasite prevention have changed over the past decade. A few years ago, parasite prevention recommendations in the Midwest part of the United States were to keep your dog on prevention medications from March until December and off during the winter. Based on the fact that dogs are both indoors and outdoors, fleas do not die off in the house in the winter, and ticks can survive the winter, the current recommendation is for year-round parasite control. If you have questions about current recommendations in your area, please discuss this with your veterinarian.
How To Best Avoid Your Dog Attracting Parasites
There are things you can do to prevent parasites in your dog. The mainstay of prevention is to provide your dog with flea, tick, and heartworm prevention medications on a monthly basis or as recommended by the specific product. Vaccination for Lyme disease can also be helpful if you live in a high-risk area. Careful monitoring for fleas and ticks is important as you interact with your pet every day.
Additional Articles that May be of Interest About Parasite Prevention for Dogs:
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