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Common Parasites of the Dog

Bugs and Your Dog


Any dog can get parasites, and some can be transmitted to humans. While all of these parasitic infestations can be dealt with medically, some are easier to control than others. Prevention is the key, and the best way to protect your dog, yourself and your family. Here is a list of the most common types of parasites that can affect your dog.

1. Fleas

Fleas on Dogs - Microscopic Flea Image
Photo by E. Pollard/PhotoLink/Getty Images
The flea is a hard-bodied, wingless insect that is as small as the tip of a pencil. Its strong legs are designed to jump great distances, while its narrow body is perfect for navigating through the hair coats of mammals. The flea's mouthparts are for sucking the blood of its host (often a dog or cat). A flea can cause a variety of problems for your dog, including Flea Allergic Dermatitis, anemia and tapeworm infection. A serious flea infestation can be a hassle to deal with. The best option is to keep your dog on flea prevention, especially during warmer months.

2. Ticks

Pictures of Ticks - Photos of Tick Life Stages
Photo © Getty Images
Fleas are not the only little vampires lurking in your dog's world. The tick is an arthropod that feeds on the blood of its host, including dogs, cats and humans. The tick jumps unto a host, attaches its mouthparts into the skin, and sucks blood until it becomes engorged. Ticks are well-known vectors of some serious diseases. Lyme Disease, Ehrlichia, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are a few of the more common tick-borne diseases. Ticks typically live in tall grasses and wooded areas. While some chemical products may prevent ticks from attaching to your dog, it is important to check your dog regularly for ticks, especially after spending time where ticks may lurk.

3. Heartworms

Photo of Mosquito - Heartworm Disease in Dogs
Photo © Maarten Wouters/Getty Images
Heartworms (Dirofilaria immitis) are parasitic nematodes that are among the most dangerous parasites affecting dogs. Heartworm larvae are transmitted to dogs via mosquitos. Once inside the dog, the larvae migrate and mature in dog's heart and lungs. Adult heartworms look something like spaghetti and can be 9 to 16 inches in length. Heartworm infection is a serious condition in dogs that leads to death if untreated. In addition, the treatment to rid a dog of adult heartworms is risky to the dog. The best approach is heartworm prevention (generally given monthly) to kill the tiny heartworm larvae before they mature into dangerous adults.

4. Intestinal Worms

Canine Hookworms - Ancylostoma caninum
Photo: Joel Mills/CDC/Wikimedia Commons
There are a variety of intestinal parasites that your dog can pick up from his environment. The "big four" are roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms. Tapeworms come from fleas, but the other three are typically contracted after contact with contaminated soil. Intestinal parasites cause a variety of symptoms, most of which are uncomfortable for your dog. Some of these intestinal parasites can affect humans too. Protect your dog, yourself and your family by learning about these intestinal parasites and how to prevent them.

5. Mites (Mange)

There are two types of mites that typically affect dogs. Most common is Demodectic mange, or Demodex, a mite that lives on the skin or in the hair follicles and oil glands of a host (often a dog or cat). Small numbers of mites can live on many dogs without causing problems because the immune system keeps the population under control. However, when demodex numbers get high, they can cause localized areas of hair loss and itching. This most often occurs in young animals or those with compromised immune systems. Demodex is treated with prescription medication (oral and/or topical) and can take weeks to months to resolve.

Sarcoptic mange, also called Scabies, is a highly contagious mite that burrows into the skin. These mites cause intense itching, hair loss and scabs on the skin. Scabies is rather difficult to diagnose. Treatment is lengthy and often requires a combination of oral medications and, in some cases, special medicated baths. Scabies is extremely contagious to both pets and humans.

More info about Demodex
More info about Scabies
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