Many of our pet cats and dogs (and even small furries!) will pick up fleas or worms at some point in their life. These pesky parasites live either inside our pets’ digestive tracts, on their skin, or in our homes and can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms. From showing no signs to itching, or more serious issues such as vomiting, diarrhoea and weight loss, parasites need to be treated as soon as possible. However, due to their various life cycles, it may take some persistence to get rid of them for good and break the infectious cycle. In this article, we will help you learn a bit more about these parasites, what they do to your pets and how to get rid of them.
Enemy Number One: The Flea
Fleas are an ectoparasite meaning they affect your pet from the outside. They are most prevalent during warmer weather but with central heating, as in many homes nowadays, they can survive all year round. Although fleas only live for around 7 to 14 days they can lay as many as 50 eggs per day during this short lifetime. These eggs can then develop into adult fleas in 21 days in warm conditions. Adult fleas survive by ingesting animal blood several times a day and, although the volume of blood lost is rarely significant enough to cause a problem, they leave extremely itchy and irritating bites. Some animals may also develop a reaction to the flea saliva, causing very serious irritation with even only a few fleas present. Additionally, ingestion of fleas by your pets during self-grooming may result in them contracting tapeworm from the fleas.
Enemy Number Two: Worms
In addition to fleas, you need to look out for worms in your pets. There are many types of worms that can infect pets but the most common types in the UK currently are Tapeworms and Roundworms. Tapeworms tend to come from an intermediate host such as fleas, whereas roundworms can be caught directly from the environment, or from your puppy’s or kitten’s mother.
The worms live inside your pet and feed on partly digested food in the intestines. In small volumes, your pet may show no signs of illness, but in larger numbers, they can cause serious problems. Small puppies and kittens are most at risk from heavy worm infestations and this can result in death if left untreated.
Signs of Infestation
The first step if you notice any of the following signs is to take your pet to visit the vet:
● Poor fur condition
● Weight loss
● Increased tiredness
● Scooting (rubbing their bottom on the floor)
● Visible worms in faeces
● Flea dirt in fur (it looks like black sand)
One of our vets will be able to examine your pet and rule out the presence of any other diseases. They will also be able to start to talk you through all of the available options for anti-parasitic treatments.
Anti-parasitic treatments are available in a variety of forms such as tablets, spot-on or collars. Different brands and formulations will be designed to be used on different species and to target different parasites. The frequency of treatment and duration of action will also vary between products. Our vets will be able to discuss the different products with you in detail and choose the option best suited to you and your pet.
Anti-parasitic treatment should be started as soon as possible to begin killing the parasites. However, one treatment will rarely be effective in eliminating the problem in the long term. Fleas and worms have multiple life stages present at one point in time and products will rarely be effective against all of these. For this reason, it is important to give anti-parasitic treatments regularly to completely eliminate parasites even once the actual symptoms have disappeared.
ALWAYS remember the environment…
As well as treating your pet you need to treat their environment. This means getting rid of parasites from your home and garden. Fleas don’t actually live on their hosts, instead, they prefer to live in carpets and soft furnishings then hopping onto your pet when they need to feed. So, while treating your pet may get rid of the fleas that have been feeding, it will not affect the eggs or fleas that may be still in your home.
Regular hoovering of both carpets and soft furnishings will remove most of the flea eggs and pupae that may be there. Additionally, washing all pet bedding on a high temperature will help. If you regularly use the car to transport your pet then it is a good idea to regularly hoover the car as well, especially during the warmer weather. If you have a heavy or persistent infestation in your home, then you may need to try something stronger like an anti-parasitic aerosol spray for the environment. However, some of these may be harmful to humans and pets, so read and follow the instructions carefully. We will be able to advise you on the best products for this.
Many worm species involve a life stage cycle in your pets’ faeces. Therefore, it is essential to regularly pick up faeces from the garden and immediately pick up faeces done when out on walks. This is trickier to achieve with cats, but keeping your own garden clear is a good step in the right direction.
As well as other cats and dogs, wildlife can also harbour parasites. Animals such as foxes, rats or even hedgehogs can be attracted to houses by overflowing dustbins, compost heaps or unsecured food containers. Keeping dustbins tidy and outhouses or garages clear of any food will stop these animals being attracted close to your home and reduce the risk of them being able to pass fleas or worms to your own pets.
Slugs and snails can also be a source of lungworm, so it’s worth trying to prevent your pets from eating them if possible. Again, contact with wildlife can be harder to prevent in outdoor cats since they will naturally hunt rodents and small birds. In these cases, sticking to a regular anti-parasitic regime is even more important.
Fleas and worms are an unwelcome and unpleasant addition to your pet. Although infestations can be persistent there are plenty of options to banish them in the long term. If you have any further concerns about parasites, treatment and prevention, please don’t hesitate to contact us and we will be happy to help.