Protecting Your Pet and Your Family from Parasites – What You Need to Know

By February 12, 2020 February 26th, 2020 Preventative Medicine

There are both internal and external parasites.

Internal ones include roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms and heartworm. 

1-Roundworms are common in the soil in most places.  Pets that are on grass in parks or gardens are at risk. These are the ones that people know about as “the cat worm that kids get from sandboxes”.   There is a canid version of this as well, and parks are contaminated by this through lack of pet poop pickup and wildlife traffic. As no one deworms the wildlife, this is an ongoing risk, especially if your pet goes to wildlife habituated parks (like Nose Hill Park, or hiking in the river valleys or mountains).  These worms live in the gut, but the larvae can travel to the liver and the eye (as know with kids and sandboxes).

2-Hookworms and whipworms, while they can be problematic in some areas, are less common in Alberta than roundworms.  They are more of a concern in BC, eastern Canada, the USA and Mexico. 

3-Tapeworms can be acquired through flea infestation or through eating raw meat or animal carcasses, or hunting prey.  Dogs that are off leash or walked in wildlife areas are at risk.  When infected canids shed the eggs in their feces, they contaminate the environment. Humans can be accidentally infected from the environment through poor hand hygiene when outdoors or around egg shedding pets.  The usual host is a mouse or small rodent.  In both humans and rodents, these eggs result in cystic growths, typically the in lung, liver or brain, which often resemble cancer. These can take many years to be diagnosed and can lead to life threatening illness.  When a dog or wild canid eats a rodent, the cycle is complete, and there are more eggs passed into the environment.

4-Heartworm is spread by mosquitoes.  There needs to be a certain and consistent amount of heat for larvae to be infective to cats and dogs.  Generally, Alberta does not have a climate that supports this parasite, but if your pet travels it can be at risk in warm places/warm months.

External parasites include fleas, ticks, lice and ear mites.

1-Ear mites are generally associated with puppies and kittens, and are contagious.

2-Fleas require a certain amount of humidity to support their life stages; Alberta does not often satisfy their needs.  However, gopher holes do stay warm and humid enough to support fleas.  If you are travelling outside Alberta, your pet may be at risk for these.

3-Lice are not an uncommon annoyance.  They can be readily shared in close confines, and most often this happens through grooming salons or daycares.

4-Ticks are increasing in prevalence across Canada, including in Alberta.  While ticks themselves are gross, it is the potential of them carrying life threatening disease that is the greater concern.  Another concern is if they come into our homes (and beds) through our pets, we, too, are at risk for those diseases. There are several species of ticks beyond the Ixodes tick (Lyme disease carrying tick) in Canada.  Risk for ticks is usually related to exposure to wildlife, long grasses, and urban and rural areas where they have been established.  NB – We have had ticks found on dogs who didn’t leave their yards – presumably from birds, rabbits or other wildlife! 

What you need to know about prevention

Infections and disease from these parasites can be prevented.  This can be done through basic hygiene with hand washing, as well as medications which kill these parasites to protect ultimately not only our pets, but our children (who have even less good hand hygiene skills) and ourselves.  Preventives should be used based on your risk of exposure.  Preventives need to be used according to label recommendations to ensure they work. Some preventives need to be used prior to exposure, and some are actually post exposure treatments.  For some, one dose will do; for others, multiple doses need to be used in consecutive months after exposure for best efficacy, or safety; some need to be given specifically with or without food to work, some have age limitations.  There are many products out there – please talk to your veterinarian to ensure you have the information you need to ensure best protection for your pet!  If you pet usually lives in an urban area, but travels with you out of province even for a weekend, there should be a discussion about risk assessment for your pet. 

Rules of Thumb:

If your pet walks on grass, you should be deworming regularly.

If your pet is off leash, tapeworm deworming should be done.

If your pet is in long grasses, or in areas where wildlife goes, tick preventives should be considered.

If your pet sleeps in your bed, plays with children or people with immunocompromise, you really! should be deworming and considering external parasite prevention for your pet!

Medication notes:

For Roundworm Prevention – please use this medication as prescribed; ideally dates should be marked as a reminder onto a calendar to ensure best protection for your pet (and you and your family!)  This medication should be separated from tick preventives by 48 hours.

For Heartworm Prevention – Interceptor and Interceptor Plus are two of several medications that we commonly use to prevent heartworm.  If your pet goes out of province and to a heartworm endemic area, you should use these products monthly while away and for 6 consecutive months after return home to ensure larvae are killed in the tissues before reaching the bloodstream. This is important.  ASK if you have questions.  If your pet does not leave Alberta, this is not a concern for your pet, and use these products in the standard summer/winter protocol as prescribed.

Tick Prevention – Credelio is one medication that must be taken with food to be effective.  It makes the drug more readily absorbable.  If you do not give with food, the level of protection will be reduced.  Please give this medication at meal time for your pet.  Please separate from deworming medication by 48 hours.