What is a Parasite?

  1. A parasite is a plant or an animal that lives on or inside another living organism (host).
  2. A parasite is dependent on its host and obtains some benefit, such as survival, usually at the host’s expense.

Are there different types of parasites?

There are two basic types:

Internal parasites (endoparasites), such as heartworms, hookworms and roundworms, live inside the body of a plant or animal and produce an infection within the host.

External parasites (ectoparasites), such as fleas, ticks, ear mites and sarcoptic mites, live on the body of the host and produce an infestation.

How dangerous are parasites to my dog?

It depends on the type of parasite, the degree of infection or infestation, and your pet’s reaction to the parasite. For example, a mild flea infestation may be of no consequence to some dogs, while others may show hair loss, itching and discomfort. Severe flea infestation may lead to significant skin disease, anemia or death, especially in young puppies. Infestations by ear mites can cause otitis, or inflammation of the external ear, which can be complicated by secondary bacterial infections. Dogs may have odor and a crusty brown discharge from their ears. Sarcoptic mites can result in severe itchiness, hair loss and discomfort. These mites also affect humans who acquire them from contact with affected dogs.

Canine heartworm is a completely preventable but potentially deadly parasite. Immature worms are transmitted to dogs through a mosquito bite. The immature worms migrate and mature in the dog and eventually become adult heartworms in the large blood vessels in the lungs or the right side of the heart. Heartworms can damage the blood vessels and lead to secondary damage of the heart, resulting in heart failure. Dogs usually are presented to veterinarians for coughing, lethargy, exercise intolerance or loss of appetite. Heartworm is much easier to prevent than to treat because prevention is safe, effective and easy to administer. However, dogs may be at risk of serious illness from adult heartworms.

Are flea bites harmful or just annoying?

Dogs differ in their response to flea bites. When fleas bite, they deposit flea saliva into the host’s skin that can cause an allergic reaction resulting in flea allergy dermatitis, also known as flea-bite hypersensitivity, which causes the skin to become inflamed and lose hair. Secondary bacterial infections may also complicate the underlying flea allergy. Dogs with flea-bite hypersensitivity commonly are itchy and frequently have hair loss at the base of the tail, extending up the back. Dogs sensitive to flea bites may be very uncomfortable due to their flea exposure, while less sensitive dogs may be unaffected by them. When flea infestations are severe and blood loss is high from feeding, serious illness may result, especially in puppies. Death due to anemia may result from severe fleas infestation.

Are parasites a danger to my family?

Although dogs may be affected by a diverse group of parasites, most of them affect only dogs and pose no risk for humans. There are a few parasites of which dog owners should be aware, not only because of the illness they cause in dogs, but because they may also cause human disease. Diseases transmitted from animals to humans are called zoonotic diseases. Ingestion of roundworm eggs from soil can cause blindness, nervous system damage, or damage to internal organs. Hookworm infection may result in red tortuous skin lesions, and Sarcoptes mites cause an itchy red rash. Your veterinarian can recommend methods to prevent, treat or control many canine parasites to reduce the chance of human exposure and to keep your dog healthy.

What can I do to prevent parasites?

While heartworms, hookworms, roundworms, fleas, ticks, ear mites and sarcoptic mites can cause health problems and be difficult to treat, they are all easily prevented. Ask your veterinarian about products that keep your household safe from these pests.

For more information on parasites and prevention, please visit www.dogsoftherevolution.com.


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