In a temperate climate like we have in Vancouver, internal and external parasites can be a year-round problem. A large urban dog population with a limited number off-leash areas means there are a lot of dogs spending time together in relatively close quarters. Similarly, while dog day cares and dog walking services are terrific, convenient ways to exercise your dogs, the close contact amongst dogs can enhance parasite transmission.
Fleas and ticks are the most common external parasites we deal with. The flea population does tend to go dormant outside during the cold, damp winter months, but in the climate controlled comfort of apartment buildings and condo towers, fleas introduced to buildings can take up residence in common areas and travel throughout a building. We have seen cats who live entirely indoors on the 25th floor of a tower come into the clinic with fleas who have migrated in on other pets.
Ticks, lice and mites are also seen with some regularity. Dogs, and outdoor cats, can pick up ticks while walking through bushes and grass. Ticks are responsible for transmission of a wide variety of diseases, most notably Lyme disease- a bacterial infection that can cause fever, joint inflammation and lameness.
Like fleas, lice also cause profound itchiness in our pets. They are most commonly found on dogs in a social situation- close contact is required to transmit lice from one dog to he next. Day cares and dog parks are perfect settings for this to happen.
Mites are another cause of itchiness, and can also cause hair loss, and in some cases, be transmitted to us. The most common type of mite- Demodex- is a normal skin inhabitant that lives in hair follicles. In pets with an underdeveloped immune system (like puppies) these mites can proliferate in follicles and damage the hair, resulting in hair loss and inflammation. With enough mites, large areas of hair loss may develop. Scabies mites are a less common cause of itchiness, and can be much harder to diagnose. They burrow in the skin, and can be transmitted to humans in close contact.
Internal parasites are also a common problem in dogs and cats. They may go undetected in some cases, or may cause significant health issues if they’re present in larger numbers. We commonly see parasites in puppies and kittens associated with improper de-worming of the mom-cat or dog when they were pregnant. Transplacental transmission of worm larvae, or transmission in the mother’s milk can result in puppies and kittens having worms without ever having set foot outside. Fecal material contaminating dog parks is also a common place for our dogs to pick up worms.
More and more, now, we’re seeing a parasite called Giardia. This is a protozoan organism that in humans causes ‘Beaver Fever’. It has typically been picked up by drinking contaminated water from a pond, but it’s now a resident in the moist soil in our dog parks. It will cause diarrhea, often with blood, and sometimes vomiting as well.
This is not to say you should stay away from dog parks! Dogs are social creatures, and spending time with their own kind is important, and an excellent form of exercise. Regular de-worming will help control not only the worm burden in your own pets, but also the numbers of eggs being shed into the environment when they pass stool. No matter how good we are about picking up after our pets, there will always be a little residue left on the ground that could contain worm eggs.
The life cycles of all the various parasites we see are too much for the scope of this website. Suffice it to say, there is an ongoing risk of exposure to all our outdoor pets. Regular de-worming treatments are the best way to limit the effect these parasites may have on our pets.
Starting with the first puppy or kitten visit, we recommend a de-worming treatment once monthly up to 6 months of age. This will take care of any worms they may have ‘inherited’ from their mother. After that, we recommend de-worming at least twice yearly for all pets that spend any time outdoors.
There are a wide variety of products available for safe, effective parasite control. Some of these are administered orally, and some are topical. Some are prescription items and others can be sold over-the counter.