Watch the video about to see the vet spot on the Today Show and learn about parasite control in pets. Read on below for more of the details.
Most of us love our pets, and we like to hold them and hug them, but there’s one aspect of the animals in our lives that can make us uneasy: the parasites that they can carry, inside and out. A recent survey of over 1000 dog owners found that while most people (85%) are happy to hug their dogs, nearly a third had found pet parasites on themselves or their children. This in itself is enough to make most people feel uneasy, but perhaps the biggest problem is the uncertainty that accompanies fear of parasites: most people don’t know which parasites are the most dangerous for our pets’ health or for human health.
The survey found that most owners allow their pets to get very close during daily activities: they let them sleep on the bed, as well as sitting on the sofa or on their lap. Many even allow their pets to lick their faces and give them “kisses”. A few owners go even further, allowing their pets to lick the family’s plates and sit up at the dinner table. This type of close contact can be part of the pleasure of sharing your life with your pets, but what about the potential health risk from parasites that your pet might be hosting? Over a third of people say they never think about this aspect.
So what actions do people need to take to protect their pets and their families from parasites?
- The good news is that if simple steps are taken, any risk can be minimised.
- The best answer is a comprehensive parasite control programme for your pet.
Parasites fall into two groups: external and internal.
External parasites live outside the pet: fleas, ticks, lice and mites. Very few of these creepy crawlies will actually infest humans, but the mere thought of them on your pet is enough to make you feel itchy.
Fleas are common: the weather is warm enough in Ireland for fleas to breed outside from April to September, so your dog and cat can easily pick them up if they visit outdoor areas which other pets frequent. And once fleas have been brought into your home, they will lay eggs in your carpets which can hatch out anything up to a year later. Animals do not always itch when they have fleas, so you have to check your pet regularly to ensure that they are not harbouring tiny passengers. Even if you do not see live fleas, you may see “flea dirt”, tiny specks of dried blood which appear black when you find them in your pet’s coat, but which streak reddish-brown when placed on moist cotton wool. Fleas will not infest humans, but they may take a few bites of people’s ankles and other areas of exposed flesh.
Many people prefer to prevent fleas rather than waiting until they have arrived in their home to deal with them.
A range of effective flea prevention products are available, including sprays, shampoos, spot-on products, tablets and collars.
Some need to be used once a month, once every 2 months, or every 3 months, depending on the product
It’s important to remember to treat the pet’s environment as well as the animal itself: only 5% of the total flea population is on the pet, with 95% of the fleas in the carpets, floors and bedding, as microscopic flea eggs and larvae. You need to use a special household spray to stop these from turning into adult fleas.
- Ticks, lice, mites
Other external parasites – ticks, lice and mites – are less common than fleas and some flea control products also treat for these creepy crawlies.
Alternatively, if your pet just pick up an occasional tick, it may be sufficient to simply remove these with a special tick removing tool
“Internal parasites” or worms – can also infest your pet, including roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms and others.
Most of these are harmless to humans, and just cause mild disease to pets, but the dog roundworm – Toxocara canis – and to a lesser extent, the cat roundworm – Toxocara cati – are well known as potential human pathogens.
The sequence of events is simple. The adult worms, lurking inside the pet’s intestines, lay eggs that are passed in the faeces. The eggs are initially harmless to humans, but after lying on the ground for two or three weeks, they develop into infectious larvae, like microscopic caterpillars. If these get onto a child’s hands, and then into their mouth, they will develop further inside their digestive tract. Tiny worms pass through the child’s intestinal wall, into their blood stream, and then around their body. Most often, these worms settle in harmless places like muscles, forming benign cysts that do nor harm. But if the worms happen to settle at the back of the eye, the cysts can cause blindness in children. This is exceptionally rare, but it’s the reason why it’s so important to worm pets regularly, and to pick up pet faeces so that it is not in the environment for long enough to become dangerous.
It’s important to give your pet an effective wormer, and to give it often enough: usually once a month, or once every three months, depending on your situation. (I will bring some tablets)
It’s also important to consider the dog lungworm. Dogs can pick this up by eating infected slugs and snails, and they probably do this without their owners noticing, by common behaviours like chewing grass. The incidence of lungworm is growing, probably due to climate change, and new cases are now being seen in previously unaffected areas. Most vets now discuss lungworm prevention with owners during routine health checks.
Lungworm settles into dogs’ lungs, causing them to cough, but the more worrying effect is that it can stop the blood clotting, and there have been cases of previously healthy dogs dying suddenly, and on autopsy, they have been found to died of a brain haemorrhage, and they have also had a hidden lungworm infection. For this reason, if your dog is seen to eat slugs or snails, or to chew grass regularly, then you should talk to your vet about a prescription only preventive treatment specifically for lungworm: these can be “spot on” products or tablets.
- Fleas are common in Ireland: many people prefer to prevent them using regular medication
- Ticks are sometimes seen: if just occasional, then remove them with a tool, if they are often seen, use preventive medication
- Roundworms are common and can infect humans, so regular medication for worms is essential for all pets
- Lungworm can cause internal bleeding in dogs, so if your dog eats slugs and snails or chews grass regularly, regular specific preventive medication is important
- At Petfix Club, we have a parasite prevention planner tool that helps people work out the safest way to protect their pets and their family from parasites