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Pearls of Wisdom on Parasites Part 3

Dr. Andy’s Pearls of Wisdom on Parasites Part 3


     Next to food, water, shelter and vaccines the next most important part of maintaining the health of your pet is parasite control.  A parasite is an organism that lives on or in an organism of another species, known as the host, from the body of which it obtains nutriment.  There are several types of parasites that prey upon our pets and sometimes even the pet owners.  These organisms not only steal nutrients from our pets, but they also spread disease and other parasites.  Some of these pesky critters cause allergic responses that make our pets itchy and miserable.  Preventing an infestation of parasites saves money and makes your pets life much more comfortable.  There are so many products available to fight these creatures that it can be confusing.  The needs of the pet and the depth of the wallet are two of the factors that must be considered when choosing the best parasite control.  In parts 1 and 2, I covered deadly heartworms and intestinal parasites, the last group is the creepy crawlies that not only feed on our pets, but also on us as well.

     Fleas in particular make our pets downright miserable. One of the most common allergies in pets is called Flea Allergic Dermatitis.  This condition means that the pet is actually allergic to flea saliva and just one flea can make the pet itch for up to two weeks.  Fleas feed on the blood of the host and a bad enough infestation can cause anemia and in weak animals can lead to death.  As I mentioned in my previous article, pets also can contract tapeworms by ingesting fleas. 

     Ticks and mosquitoes pose a major health threat because they carry several diseases that are specific to dogs, and some that are transmissible to humans.  Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain fever, Babesia, and Ehrlichia are some of the tick borne diseases.  The deer tick is the species that is most associated with Lyme disease and is not as common in our area.  When planning a trip to the northeast, please include a set of Lyme vaccines for your pet at least two months before leaving.  An infestation of ticks on a pet can also cause tick paralysis.  This condition is a result of toxins in the tick’s saliva reaching the central nervous system of the pet causing paralysis.  Tick paralysis can lead to death if not treated quickly, but tick removal and medications can often reverse the paralyzing condition.  While tick borne diseases are serious, mosquitoes can carry heartworms, which can account for the deaths of millions of pets every year. 

     There are also three mites that commonly affect our pet.  Ear mites are probably the best known of the three and infest the ear canal making the ears very itchy.  An ear infected with ear mites will become irritated and produce a brown, flakey crust.  The other two mites are skin mites and both cause a condition referred to as mange.  Sarcoptes scabiei is the organism that causes white mange and can affect any warm blood animal including humans.  This condition cause hair loss and sever skin irritation.   The other mange mite is Demodex spp. and it causes red mange.  These mites are almost always present, but a dog’s immune system keeps the population from causing symptoms.  In some cases there is a congenital defect that causes the dog to have an overgrowth of the mites that leads to hair loss and skin irritation.  In order to diagnose these mites a procedure called a skin scrape must be performed.  Ear mites are the most easily treated of the three, with many products to choose from that cures the problem almost immediately.  The mange mites usually cause more damage that takes longer to heal and reoccurrence is not uncommon. 

     Parasite control is a never ending battle for pet owners and veterinarians.  The good news is that every day new and better products are becoming available to make safe and effective prevention possible and convenient.  In the final part, I will review the options currently available so every pet owner can make an educated choice for their pets.