Having a pet can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life due to their capacity for unconditional love. Studies also show that they offer numerous benefits to their owners like lowering their stress levels, improving their fitness, and providing opportunities for socialization with fellow animal lovers.
This is why it can be devastating when our furry friends fall ill, especially when the cause is pet parasites. What’s more is that not only are these parasites harmful to our beloved pets, some of them can also be transmitted to us humans, causing what we call ‘zoonotic diseases.’
WHAT ARE PET PARASITES?
According to the Oxford dictionary, a parasite is an organism that lives inside another organism and survives by getting their needed nutrients at the expense of their host. If left untreated, your pet will experience pain and suffering and more often than not, death.
There are two types of pet parasites: internal and external. They can be contracted through any of three common ways: ingestion, exposure, or through vectors/carriers like mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas.
One of the most common pet parasites are heartworms – parasitic worms that are extremely damaging but can easily be prevented. They can be contracted through mosquito bites and takes seven months for it to fully mature. Once fully matured, they make their home in the heart and parts of the lungs which can cause congestive heart failure. These are more common in dogs but can also live in ferrets, cats, and sometimes even humans. However, in humans, it’s considered rare.
An intestinal parasite, hookworms can be contracted by both dogs and cats from their mother while nursing, through ingestion of the eggs, or when the parasite burrows into the animal’s skin. They can be contracted once your pet comes into contact with infected soil. Hookworms attach to the intestinal wall’s lining and feed on the animal’s blood. The blood loss can have severe consequences on your pet’s health, especially with puppies and kittens. It can be contracted by humans by walking on infected soil barefoot, allowing the parasite to burrow into the skin.
Commonly found in dogs, roundworms can be contracted either through their mother’s milk or when ingested through a contaminated environment. It can also be passed via an infected animal’s tissue upon ingestion. They pose more risk to humans because it can cause several serious diseases. They can be transmitted to humans through contact with contaminated feces or soil.
Tapeworms are intestinal parasites whose bodies are separated into parts or segments, with each segment having separate reproductive organs as well. There are various species of tapeworms, some of which can be contracted by humans that can result in serious diseases. They can be contracted through vectors such as fleas, rodents, and larger animals.
Fleas are the most common external parasites found on both cats and dogs. They tend to be more problematic during the warmer months – the usual weather in the Philippines. While fleas don’t pose much of a risk by themselves, they can be vectors for other parasites such as tapeworms. Fleas are also prone to biting humans, commonly on the ankles and wrists.
Ticks are also blood-sucking parasites that can affect both cats and dogs but are more common in the latter. They can cause serious diseases such as Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis. Ticks can also affect humans and can even transmit some of the diseases that affect dogs such as Lyme disease which can have severe effects.
Two of the most common mites are Demodex and ear mites. The former causes a skin disease called demodectic mange which results in hair loss, extreme itchiness, and external wounds.
Ear mites, on the other hand, are mites that results in brown-colored ear wax and are very contagious to other pets. They can cause rashes and wounds around the ears as these mites can cause extreme itchiness. Fortunately, both types don’t affect humans.
Treatment and Prevention
When it comes to parasites, according to Dr. Cielito Cometa, prevention is always better than cure. For internal parasites, deworming is often the course of action, with most dewormers available either as injectables or as oral medication.
Heartworms are a different case since the treatment is more complicated. It often requires various medications including dewormers and antibiotics. In severe cases, he says surgery may be done to remove the worms but it’s rarely done in the Philippines as the procedure is expensive.
For external parasites, using preventive medication like spot-on treatments can be effective at protecting your pets against them. Oral medication also works as a treatment to fleas, ticks, and other ectoparasitic infestations. Dr. Cometa also says regular visits to your veterinarian, especially if your pets are aged 5 years and above, as well as strengthening your pet’s immunity through proper diet and exercise can also help them prevent and fight off an infection, especially if it’s only beginning.