Parasites in Dogs
If you’ve ever brought up a new puppy or adopted an adult dog from a shelte, you probably have encountered some kind of parasites. Parasites are small creatures that live off of your dog for their nourishment. Some parasites like fleas, ticks and mites are external, while others like worms are internal. Minor parasite infestations are very common and easily treated. Left untreated the parasites will continue to breed and multiply which can lead to a decline in health for your dog.
Ticks come in a variety of sizes and colors. Some can be as large as a pea and easily spotted while others are very small. If your dog spends time outdoors in grassy or wooded areas it is a good idea to check them all over for ticks on a regular basis. Feel all over your dog’s body for any small bumps and take a good look to make sure your dog is tick free. If you do see a tick, remove it with tweezers or a tick removal tool. When ticks latch onto your dog’s skin they imbed their head into the dog’s flesh so you need to make sure you get the entire tick out and kill it. Ticks can attach themselves to humans too so if you live in an area with a lot of ticks be careful to check yourself as well!
Fleas are tiny brown bugs that can be very difficult to see on your dog. They move very quickly and can jump very far. If your notice your dog is especially itchy, the best way to check for fleas is to brush your dog on a light colored surface or piece of white paper. After the brushing spray water over the surface. If you dog has fleas the grooming will brush off “flea dirt” that will be visible on the white surface. “Flea dirt” is actually feces from the fleas and since fleas eat blood, the feces will leave little red stains when wet. Flea baths are the best way to get rid of fleas, but you will also need to do a thorough cleaning of your home and the dog’s bedding to get rid of any remaining eggs.
Ear mites are also very common in puppies or newly adopted dogs. They are too small to be seen with the naked eye, but easily recognized if a dog has very dirty ears and the wax is a dark color. Your vet can diagnose ear mites by doing a swabbing and looking at the dark wax under a microscope. If you dog does have ear mites they are easily treated with a prescription ear drop from your vet. Dogs can also get skin mites which cause itchy skin and can be diagnosed by a skin scraping from your vet.
Dogs can get worms from sharing a living environment with infected animals, from raw meat and even from fleas. There is a wide variety of types of worms that can infect your dog including roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, whipworms, coccidian, giardia and the dreaded heartworm. The first symptoms of worms that you will notice is that your dog is very hungry, constantly eating and not appearing to put on any weight, except for in their distended belly. That’s because the worms are stealing the nutrients in your dog’s food! Dogs with worms also get diarrhea and may scoot their irritated bum across the floor. If the worms grow into larva, they can be visible in your dog’s feces or in the fur around your dog’s rear end. When you bring your dog to the veterinarian they usually will ask you to bring in a fecal sample. The purpose of the fecal sample is to check it for worm eggs under the microscope. If your dog does have worms they are easily treated with some oral medication from your vet.
Regular veterinary exams will help protect your dog from serious parasite infection because your vet will be able to detect any problems before they get too large. Preventative topical medications are a good way to help prevent external parasites, but they are not 100% effective so still be sure to keep an eye out for fleas & ticks!