Question: What is a parasite?

Answer: A parasite is defined as an organism that survives by taking what it needs from its host, while providing no benefit in return. 

Q: Do we have to worry about parasites in pets? 

A: Numerous parasites can infest your pets, most commonly fleas, ticks, and heartworms.

Let’s investigate these three parasites from each parasite’s perspective. 

Fleas and pets 

We fleas love feasting on dogs and cats. We get the best of both worlds, because we can live indoors year-round, and go outdoors only during the warm or hot months, if we want. Our species will survive forever, because each female flea lays thousands of eggs that hang around either inside or outside till they hatch and mature, and then jump on an unsuspecting dog or cat who goes by. Our eggs are so tiny they can fall deep into carpets and floor crevices and survive for months, if your home is not deeply and thoroughly cleaned. Once we latch onto your pet, we feed on their blood, and can make them exceedingly uncomfortable and unbearably itchy, especially if they are allergic to our saliva. If we infest puppies and kittens, we can cause life-threatening anemia. We are proud of the suffering we cause. 

Our greatest enemies are veterinarians who prescribe flea preventives, and pet owners who give their pet those flea preventives religiously, never missing a dose. Although each preventive—whether oral, topical, or injectable—works a little differently, they generally destroy our eggs, or kill us as adults. 

Pets and ticks

We ticks love to climb up long grasses and low-lying brush and wait for a host—especially your pet—to walk by. When they do, we jump, grab on, and hold on tight, until we can move around and find a suitable location on your pet’s body, where we bury our head under the skin, and feed on their blood. We actually feed many times throughout our lives, as we mature, and eventually reach the adult tick stage. At that point, we have engorged ourselves with enough blood to lay eggs, and breed a new generation of ticks. Although we don’t cause intense itchiness like fleas, we can cause significant illness, such as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, depending on the tick species. We are also proud of the suffering we cause in pets. 

Like our flea friends, our biggest enemies are veterinarians who prescribe flea and tick preventives, and pet parents who give those preventives monthly, year-round, and never miss a dose. When we bury our heads and start to feed, we ingest the preventive, which kills us. 

Pets and heartworms

Heartworms differ from fleas and ticks in that we don’t get to choose our host. Instead, a mosquito that is infected with heartworm larvae bites your dog or cat. Once the mosquito bites, we are transmitted  as “baby heartworms” (i.e., heartworms in the larval stage) into the host—your pet. We find our way into your pet’s bloodstream, and move through till we find their heart, where we take up residence—hence our name—and after six to seven months, develop into adults that can be as much as 12 inches long. In cats, we often end up in the lungs, and cause sudden death, because no treatment is available for them. In dogs, we can cause significant organ damage, breathing difficulties, and death, depending on how many of us there are. We heartworms are proud not only of the suffering we cause, but also that the treatment to try to kill us is so painful.

A heartworm’s greatest enemies are veterinarians who prescribe heartworm prevention medication, and pet parents who ensure their pets always receive their preventive. Heartworm preventives kill off the young heartworms who have been in your pet’s blood for only a month. We always hope the pet owner forgets the preventive one month, because if your pet gets infected during the time the dose was missed, the juveniles can develop into adult heartworms, despite getting the preventive from then on.

Now you know. We—fleas, ticks, and heartworms—all have two things in common. We love making your pets suffer, and we don’t like veterinarians or pet owners who insist on using pet parasite preventives!

Parasites can cause many problems for your pets, but some can be prevented, which is why veterinarians recommend flea, tick, and heartworm prevention for all pets, year-round, whether your pet spends most of their time indoors or outside. If you are curious to learn more about parasites and their effect on your pet, give us a call at Livingston Veterinary Hospital, to consult with one of our veterinary team members.