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Parasite Control and Your Dog: What You Need to Know

Know thy enemy, even those of the tiniest varieties.

When it comes to your canine companion, you are the primary purveyor of his longterm well-being. Your year-round vigilance is necessary to protect your dog from an array of parasitic creatures that threaten his health and comfort, and having the appropriate base knowledge of treatment and prevention options proves paramount.

The warmer weather of spring and summer beckons parasites to your canine, who provides just the furry, warm environment these unwanted hosts need in order to flourish. Tiny critters ranging from fleas and ticks to intestinal parasites serve as a nuisance to your pooch or – in the worst-case scenarios – afflict your canine with a serious condition.

As the famous proverb goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” While most parasitic attacks your furry companion encounters are treatable, it behooves you as an owner to take preventative measures to protect your pooch and minimize the threats posed by these canine enemies. Here’s what you need to know about parasite control for your dog.

Flea Infestation in Dogs

The flea is a common problem for dogs as well as their owners. Like all parasites, fleas pose a health-hazard to your pooch and can make him miserable. As if flea bites aren’t bad enough, some dogs are “flea allergic” and develop severe itching because they’re hypersensitive to the antigens in flea saliva.

Fleas are typically seasonal within northern climates and year-round within southern climates. Indicators your dog might be affected include visible signs of fleas, an excessive propensity to itch or chew the skin, evidence of flea “dirt” (black pepper type discharge on the skin), and the presence of skin lesions.

The itching component to a flea allergy can be treated with antihistamines or even steroids prescribed by your veterinarian, but the best approach is to kill the fleas and prevent their return. Preventative strategies include:

How to Remove and Prevent Ticks

Ticks are irritating arthropods that prey on dogs. Their goal in life is to find a warm-blooded creature so that they can feed, and canines often prove to be an easy target. Veterinarians and pet owners have been battling these tiny parasites for decades and the battle wages on.

The best recommendation to remove a tick involves using tweezers or a commercially available tick removal device to pull the tick off your dog. Do not touch the tick since diseases can be transmitted. Use a tissue or paper towel to protect your fingers and consider wearing gloves when removing a tick.

Control and prevention of ticks is extremely important in reducing the risk of disease associated with these parasites. As such, you should remove ticks from your canine as soon as possible. Tick avoidance requires staying away from environments that harbor these parasites, meaning extra care should be taken in woodlands and areas with tall grass. When traveling, be aware that certain areas of the country have a much higher incidence of ticks.

Ticks can be eliminated by applying topical tick-killing medications to affected canines. Tick collars or products applied topically may act to prevent attachment of new ticks and to promote detachment of existing ticks. There are many products on the market used to control ticks – consult your veterinarian for suggestions.

Dealing with Ear Mites

If you see your dog shaking his head and scratching his ears excessively, or if there is an abnormal odor emanating from his ears, he may be suffering from ear mites. These highly-contagious, tiny crab-like parasites live in the ear canals of dogs. The presence of mites can cause severe inflammation in your affected canine’s ears.

Your veterinarian will begin treatment by cleaning out your dog’s ears before applying medication. If necessary, your vet can prescribe topical medication for you to apply at home. You can prevent ear mites by drying your pet’s ears after bathing, checking his ears for foreign matter, and promptly visiting your vet at the first sign of trouble.

Intestinal Parasites in Dogs

Intestinal parasites, commonly referred to as “worms” in canines, represent one of the most common conditions seen in puppies and dogs. Most infections are acquired by ingestion of microscopic eggs. This occurs when a dog licks areas where other dogs have defecated. Symptoms of intestinal parasites in canines include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, and skin lesions.

For parasite prevention in dogs who primarily spend time outdoors, it may be advisable to evaluate stool samples every three to six months if risk of infection is high. Treatments for intestinal parasites may include one or more of the following options:

Heartworm Disease in Dogs

Canine heartworm disease is a common condition in many regions of the world. It’s caused by a threadlike worm typically transmitted through mosquito bites that lives in the pulmonary arteries (blood vessels leading from the heart to the lungs) in most infected dogs. Dogs can be without symptoms if the infection is light or has occurred recently. However, in some cases heartworm disease can cause severe debilitation and eventually prove fatal.

Because heartworm disease is easily preventable, it has become a less common diagnosis in pets that receive regular veterinary care. Prevention of heartworm disease should be undertaken in all dogs. Use of daily medications has largely been replaced by monthly preventatives available either in chewable tablets or in non-chewable forms.

Resources for Canine Parasite Control

Want more useful advice regarding how to minimize and treat the parasite threats your dog encounters? Check out our featured articles: