Caring for a four-legged companion involves more than providing them with good nutrition, playtime, and cozy couch cuddles. Responsible pet ownership is a lifelong commitment of regular veterinary care to ensure your pet thrives into their grey muzzle years. Our pets are family, our constant companions, and frequent nap partners during the chilly winter months. Many pet owners enjoy sharing close quarters with their pet, so ensuring you protect your pet from pesky parasites, and avoid sharing potentially dangerous diseases, is critical. One of the most common pet ownership myths is that parasites do not infect pets during the colder months. Our Airway Animal Clinic team explains parasite basics, the importance of year-round parasite protection, and ways to ensure your pet is protected.
What is a pet parasite?
Parasites are organisms that benefit by living on or inside your pet. Any animal can become infected with a parasite during any time of the year. Additionally, some external parasites, like fleas and mosquitoes, carry diseases, and can infect your pet when they bite. Pets who don’t receive regular wellness veterinary visits with our Airway Animal Clinic veterinarian, or who are not on regular prevention medication, are most at risk for a parasite infection. Common pet parasites include:
- Fleas — These parasites are the most common external parasite in pets. Fleas thrive in warm, humid weather, making your heated home their perfect environment. Fleas can cause severe itching, skin infection, and discomfort in pets, and can carry tapeworm larvae, which pets can ingest and become infected.
- Ticks — Pets who venture into wooded areas or bushes are most at risk for tick infections, because ticks seek the warmth of the leaf piles and woods during colder temperatures. Ticks attach to your pet and feed on their blood, and can pass on a variety of diseases, including Lyme disease.
- Mites — Sarcoptic mange (i.e., scabies) and demodectic mange are the two most common manges in pets. Scabies mites are highly contagious to dogs and people, and can cause intense itching, hair loss, and rash. Demodex mites, which are most commonly found in dogs younger than 6 months, are not highly contagious, and pets are rarely itchy, but may have patches of scaly skin.
- Intestinal worms —Roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms can be transmitted to pets through contact with contaminated feces, or the environment. Tapeworms can infect your pet’s gastrointestinal (GI) system, and are transmitted when pets ingest an infected flea. Pets with intestinal parasites are at risk for GI distress, or life-threatening anemia, in some cases.
- Heartworms — One single mosquito bite can lead to heartworm disease in your pet. Although mosquitoes are more common during warmer months, heartworm disease has been diagnosed in dogs in Ohio during the colder months. In fact, in January 2021, more than 200 Ohio dogs were diagnosed with heartworm disease.
Year-round infection risks for your pet
Although some parasites, like fleas and mosquitoes, are more common during warmer months, pets are at risk for parasite infection all year long. Unexpected seasonal warmth can also lead to a sudden increase in mosquitoes and fleas, whereas intestinal worms don’t have a seasonal prevalence. Pets who don’t receive regular parasite control are most at risk for a parasite infection, and commonly become infected the following ways:
- Contact with other infected animals
- Walking through thick brush, wooded areas, or leaf piles
- Boarding in a facility with an infected pet
- Contact with wildlife
- Eating other animals’ infected stool, or reinfection from their own stool
- Eating raw meat or prey animals (e.g., rodents)
- Penetration through the skin or mouth
- Ingestion of infected external parasites (e.g., fleas) while self grooming
- Infection passed from the mother cat or dog
Common problems caused by pet parasites
Internal parasites, like intestinal worms and heartworms, are not visible, but can lead to serious illness. External parasites can lead to skin infections, and anemia in severe cases. Our Airway Animal Clinic veterinarian will check your pet for parasite infections during their regular wellness examinations, but you should bring your pet to our clinic anytime they show any of the following infection signs:
- Worms in their stool
- Worms in their bedding
- Exercise intolerance
- Weight loss
- Dull hair coat
- Red, inflamed skin
- Persistent scratching, or itching
Year-round parasite prevention tips for your pet
Regular wellness examinations combined with monthly parasite prevention products prescribed by our veterinarian are most effective for preventing a parasite infection and illness in your pet. You may be tempted to skip your pet’s monthly preventive during the winter months, but this will increase your pet’s risk. Additionally, you may forget to restart their medication when the temperatures warm up. Other prevention tips include:
- Setting a recurring reminder on your phone or computer, to ensure your pet receives their monthly parasite preventive
- Removal and proper disposal of pet feces, to prevent infection and environmental contamination
- Checking your pet for ticks after walks or hikes in heavily wooded areas
- Keeping your pet well-groomed
- Removing any standing water around your home
- Keeping your yard trimmed, to prevent tick infestations
- Avoiding wildlife
Call Airway Animal Clinic if you have any questions about your pet’s parasite preventive, or to schedule a wellness examination and parasite testing. We will help you set up a year-round parasite prevention plan that suits you and your pet.