Treating your pet for parasites
Puppies and kittens inherit roundworms from their mum (unless in the case of dogs, the mum is wormed daily from day 42 of pregnancy until 2 days after birth). These roundworms can cause a bloated stomach, poor weight gain in pups and in severe cases can even be fatal. As the worms cycle through the body they can only be killed at certain times. It is important to worm all puppies and kittens regularly to get rid of them. The recommended protocol is every 2 weeks for 3 doses, then monthly until they are 6 months old. If you follow this, then by 6 months of age there will be no puppy/kitten worms left. Some breeders will already have administered worming, so it is important to check what has already been given and work from there. If you bring all the breeder information to your vaccination appointment, we can check where you are on the protocol and provide you with appropriate worming to continue it.
Once puppies go into the garden they are potentially at risk from lungworm. Protection against this can easily be combined into their puppy worming protocol.
Fleas are less of an issue in young animals unless they get them from their mum. It is important to check that any new pet is free from fleas when you introduce them into your home. Fleas can often be seen creeping through the coat of cats and dogs. In dogs they are easiest to see around the tail base or on the belly between the back legs. In cats they are often seen round the head and neck. If there are only a few fleas they can sometimes be hard to spot and it is easier to look for the “flea dirt”. This is the waste product that a flea passes after it has had a blood meal. It looks like little specks of brown dirt, but if you wipe it with a wet piece of white tissue, you will see it dissolve and turn a reddy brown colour. One flea can produce quite a lot of flea dirt and so it is easier to spot. If there is flea dirt on your pet, or in the area that they have been sleeping, then you know that fleas have been feeding on your pet. There are a lot of different options for killing & preventing fleas infecting your pet: sprays, spot on and tablets. Some of these will also treat roundworm, so it is worth discussing with the vet which would be best product for you and your pet. Care must be taken with puppies and kittens not to overdose them. Only certain products are safe for use in very young or small animals so always talk to a vet or nurse before administering any treatment. Want to know more about Fleas?
Ticks are small parasites that live and breed in grassy areas. Young puppies and kittens that aren’t yet going out should not be at risk. There are treatment available but again you must be careful with dose in young or very small animals. Please phone the surgery for advice if you are concerned about ticks on your puppy or kitten. Want to know more about Ticks?
The frequency of worming doses is often debated in adult animals. Once a cat/dog has reached 6 months of age and has completed its puppy/kitten worming, then roundworms are a low risk health concern for the animal. They can quite happily live in the intestines of the cat or dog and cause absolutely no signs. However, they are a much higher risk problem for humans in contact with the animal (see visceral larval migrans). The reason for treating animals regularly for roundworm is to prevent complications in humans and especially children. The frequency of treatment should be weighed up against the potential risk of the animal picking up worms and the exposure of the animal to a high risk group (i.e. children or immunocompromised). If a worm free dog picks up a worm egg/larva while out in the park, it will take one month for that worm to mature and start producing eggs that will be passed in the dog’s faeces. If you worm your pet monthly, then no matter what they get up to in the park, they will never have adult worm releasing eggs in their faeces, and so you will be preventing potential human infection. However, not all pets need to be wormed this often. It is best to discuss with the vet, what the individual needs of your situation are and come up with a treatment plan for your pet.
Tapeworm is less of a problem unless your pet gets fleas (fleas can carry the larvae of the tapeworm inside them and infect a cat/dog when they get eaten during grooming), or eats raw meat (including birds/mice). Some (but not all) worming treatment combine roundworm and tapeworm. It is important to discuss how often your pet needs to be treated for tapeworm depending on its likely risk of exposure.
Lungworm (angiostrongylus vasorum) is probably the most dangerous worm that we presently have in the UK. It most frequently infects dogs after they eat slugs or snails, but results of new research have confirmed that the parasite can be shed in the slime trail left behind by slugs, and that the shed larvae can survive for at least 15 days on vegetation. It also infects foxes, which will act as a reservoir to keep releasing it into the environment. 18.3% of foxes in the UK are thought to be infected with lungworm, with as many as 50% in the south east being infected. Surrey has long been known to be a hot spot for lungworm and we recommend protecting your dog (especially young dogs who appear to be more susceptible) against this dangerous parasite.
Most fleas seen on cats and dogs are cat fleas. These can infest both cats and dogs and will also bite humans. Any cat that goes outdoors is at risk of picking up fleas, although some seem to be better at it than others. It will depend on the areas that your cat visits, and the other cats and wildlife that they come across as to how at risk of fleas they are. If your cat goes outside, we recommend that you treat it regularly with an appropriate preventative medication to protect both it and you from these irritating pests. Dogs are less prone to going out and finding fleas (with the exception of most terriers) and so may not need as regimented protection. We still recommend that you keep a close watch for any signs and if your dog is prone, then protect them. Any dogs getting worming or tick prevention will have flea protection as part of the treatment. Want to know more about Fleas?
Some dogs are tick magnets and some never get them. Ticks can be a real problem, they cause local irritation and pain and can transmit nasty diseases. Fortunately we now have a range of treatment which protect your dog from ticks. Some of these are spot ons, others are tablets. Some will prevent tick bites and others will only prevent diseases transmission. It is important to discuss with the vet which of these products works best for your dog. Cats also get ticks but less frequently. There is no treatment to prevent a cat getting bitten, but some spot ons and sprays will kill the ticks after biting. For both dogs and cats we would recommend that you always have a tick hook at home which will allow you to easily and painlessly remove these parasites from your pet. Want to know more about Ticks?
Fleas are wingless parasites that feed on the blood of dogs, cats, rabbits and humans. There are many different types: dog fleas, cat fleas, rabbit fleas, hedgehog fleas and rarely human fleas; but the one we see most often on cats and dogs is the cat flea.
The life cycle of a flea usually takes 3-4 weeks, but they can remain dormant in the environment (your carpets) for several years if a suitable animal host is not available (although cat fleas will bite and feed on humans, they require the blood of a cat or dog for them to breed and complete their life cycle). Once a female flea feeds on an animal she will lay eggs at a rate of 40-50 a day. These eggs will drop off into the carpets, bedding etc. They hatch into larvae which feed of the debris on the floor/bedding and develop into pupae. The pupae can lie dormant for several years if there is no suitable animal to feed on and so a household flea infestation may only become apparent once an animal enters the house.
When a flea bites, it injects some of its saliva into the wound. This reduces clotting in the wound and allows the flea to ingest a blood meal. However the flea saliva is a very reactive substance and a lot of animals (and humans) will react to it. In sensitive animals this will lead to flea bite dermatitis. The clinical signs of this are itchy red inflamed skin often with scabs. If left untreated the skin becomes thickened and dark and the hair falls out. It is the most common skin disease seen in dogs and cats.
Other diseases caused/transmitted by fleas
Tapeworm (dipylidium caninum)
Fleas carry the larvae of the tapeworm in their intestines. When an animal with fleas grooms they will often accidentally eat some fleas and the tapeworm larvae will then mature to adults within your pet. The adult tapeworm have hooks which they anchor into the intestinal wall which allows them to stay within the intestine, feeding on the food that passes through. They will release motile segments full of eggs which break off and are passed with faeces, or creep out of your pet’s bottom. These can cause itching. These segments then dry out and will resemble grains of rice. All animals that have had fleas should be treated with anti-tapeworm medication.
Blood Loss Anaemia.
Young puppies and kittens that have large numbers of fleas can lose so much blood from the fleas feeding that they become very anaemic. This can even be fatal, so it is crucial to ensure that their mothers flea treatment is up to date and this will give them protection in their first few weeks.
Infectious Anaemia (mycoplasma haemofelis)
This is a bacterium that is thought to be transmitted by flea bites. It infects red blood cells. The animal’s immune system recognises the infected blood cells as abnormal and destroys them. This can lead to a severe anaemia.
Cat Scratch Fever (bartonella)
This a disease that affects humans when scratched by a cat infected with the bacterium. The signs in a human range from redness around the scratch, swollen lymph nodes, through muscle and joint pain to in rare occasions neurological signs. Cats can contract the bacterium from being bitten by infected fleas and ticks.
Ticks are small parasites that feed on the blood of animals (mammals – including humans, birds, reptiles and even amphibians). Their size and colour varies depending on the species, sex, age and whether they have fed.
The most common tick in the UK is the sheep tick (ixodes ricinus). They are found on grass, leaf litter and low plants. Their life cycle takes about 3 years and needs 3 separate hosts. The newly hatched tick larvae look for a host to feed on (usually a rodent or bird). After feeding they drop off, moult and develop into nymphs. These nymphs again look for a host and the process is repeated. This time after they drop off, they develop into adults. After finding a final host, the female feeds and her eggs are fertilised by a male while on the host. Then she drops off and lays her eggs in the environment. All these life stages can potentially attach to and feed from humans or your pets.
Ticks are most commonly found in the spring and early summer, but they can survive any time of the year as long as the temperature is above 3.5C. It is recommended that you routinely protect your pet against ticks from March to November.
Apart from ticks being unpleasant and causing irritation at the site of feeding (in much the same way fleas), they can also carry and transmit a large number of diseases. Most of these are presently seen only in warmer climates but several (*) are now seen in ticks in the UK, the most common being Lymes disease.
- Babesiosis *
- Borreliosis (Lymes disease) *
- Rocky Mountain Fever
- Anaplasmosis *
- Q fever *
- Tick Borne Encephalitis
- Louping ill *