Parasite prevention 101

Written by Dr. Colleen Fisher  | Published on: 3/28/2021


Who wants to think about parasites in cats and dogs? Fortunately, your veterinarian thinks a lot about the different parasites that may harm your pet. Spring is the time of year when veterinary clinics sends messages reminding you to make an appointment for parasite checks and preventive medication pick-up. Take a look at what this means for your pet.

What is a parasite?

A parasite is an organism that resides on or inside the host dog or cat to live and eat.

  • Internal parasites include roundworms, tapeworms, and one-celled protozoa like Giardia. Many “rent space” inside the intestines, causing damage and blocking proper digestion of nutrients. Others like heartworms, kidney worms, and liver flukes cause damage to the specific organs where they are found.
  • External parasites like fleas, lice, mites, and ticks live on the skin. They tend to cause skin disease but may also contribute to other problems. Ticks can infect dogs and cats with other diseases like Lyme disease and Ehrlichiosis, whereas fleas can carry tapeworms. Large numbers of blood-feeding parasites living on a single pet will result in anemia and chronic wasting conditions. Although mosquitoes do not live on pets, their bites can infect animals with parasites like heartworm disease.
  • Yeast, fungal elements, and bacteria infect the skin of animals with problems like allergies, immune-mediated conditions, and other diseases.
  • The types of parasites vary within different Canadian regions and communities. Many parasites survive more easily in warm and humid areas and have a tougher time during cold, dry winters.
  • Many parasites are species-specific, meaning they only live on dogs or cats or people. There are, however, parasites that can cause disease across species and may transfer from pets to people. Your veterinary staff can discuss which of these zoonoses or zoonotic diseases are a concern for your home.

How does my veterinarian check for parasites?

  1. Fecal checks. Your veterinary staff will recommend checking a pet’s stool sample at least once a year to look for worm eggs and single-celled organisms.
  2. Skin scrapings and cytology. Any pet who scratches or has signs of ear problems, hair loss, red skin, or open sores should be checked for external parasites, fungi/yeast, and bacteria.
  3. Blood testing. Depending on where you live, your vet may advise annual heartworm and tick-borne disease testing. Early detection of conditions like heartworm and Lyme disease allows for more successful treatment.
  4. Indoor pets need to be checked too. Fleas, mosquitoes, and other parasites do not have good manners. If they can find a way into your home, they can infest or infect your pet.

Can I prevent my pet from getting these worms and creepy-crawlies?

Prevention is always easier than treatment. Depending on where you live in Canada, your pet’s lifestyle (indoor/outdoor), and their overall health status, your veterinarian will recommend a customized parasite prevention plan. There are very effective veterinary products to prevent serious diseases associated with heartworms, fleas, ticks, and mites. These medications will also treat many of the common intestinal parasites that can infect our pets.

Pet insurance can help with preventative wellness care

If you notice signs or symptoms that your pet may be infected by an internal or external parasite, contact your veterinarian about a treatment plan.

Petsecure can help with the cost of treatment and medications. We help cover annual exam vaccinations, routine blood exams, wellness urinalysis exams, flea control medications, heartworm testing and diagnosis, preventative medications, and more under select plans. Learn what’s covered by Petsecure and get a free quote today.