As Spring gets closer, we look forward to getting out and enjoying ourselves in local parks and favorite camping and hiking locations. While many of these destinations are fun, they also bring a higher risk of our pets contracting certain parasites and diseases. Don’t leave Fido at home though – most parasites are easily controlled or prevented!
Also known as “Beaver Fever”, Giardia is a protozoa that primarily lives in water. Most dogs get Giardia by drinking or playing in contaminated water, such as streams, rivers, and lakes. The major symptom is on-and-off diarrhea, but depending on how it affects your dog, symptoms may be as mild as weight loss and anorexia (not eating). Giardia can be transmitted to people, but luckily it is easily treated once diagnosed. A fresh stool sample will likely be collected at your veterinary clinic and examined for Giardia, among other parasites.
Dogs and cats can get many different kinds of intestinal parasites, such as tapeworms and roundworms. If a pet has worms in its stool, this actually means that the number of worms in the intestines is very high. It is important to test a stool sample to find the microscopic eggs, even if worms aren’t visible in the stool.
Many worms can be transmitted to people. Unfortunately, most human cases are children as they tend to put things (including their hands) into their mouths. If their hands contain an amount of infected stool, the children will develop worms too. In people, worms can travel in ways that they don’t in pets. The most scary route is through the body (causing damage as they go) and ending up in the eyeballs, or brain.
Since intestinal parasites can be contracted so easily and at any time of the year, most veterinary clinics recommend deworming all pets in the household at the same time, and several times a year. If there are children in the house, monthly deworming is highly recommended.
This disease is extremely common in places such as the southern United States, interior of BC, and Ontario. However, due to pets travelling or being adopted from these areas (ie Hurricane Katrina dogs), heartworm is becoming a concern in Alberta. Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitos and can be prevented by monthly medication. In endemic areas, prevention is given year-round, but in Alberta we recommend it only during the summer months (May to October).
Heartworm can infect dogs and cats, but rarely humans. Early symptoms in dogs and cats can include coughing. Sometimes cats will hide the disease until they die suddenly.
These three diseases are spread by ticks, so tick prevention is key. If you are in areas with tall grasses, or where wildlife such as deer frequent, it’s a good idea to check your pet thoroughly for ticks. Do not try to remove the ticks yourself unless you have a tool for removing ticks. Sometimes the tick’s head is left behind, imbedded in your pet’s skin, and can cause an infection.
It can be hard to search for ticks so topical products can be used monthly that will repel them. Also, you can vaccinate your pet against Lyme disease so that their immune system will be able to recognize the Lyme bacteria and fight it more efficiently if they are bitten by a Lyme-carrying tick.