Five Real-Life Lessons About Parasites


By: Kristin M. Canga, RVT Educator, The Vet Tech Institute, Houston     One of the classes I teach at VTI includes parasitology.  I love it, I’m fascinated by them, and I hope to share a few tips with you in order to keep your beloved pets healthy, and parasite free!

Lesson 1:

In the Vet Tech world, rule #1 is don’t eat poop.  No, really.  Now, I don’t know many people or animals that sit down with a big bowl of steaming poo and dig in.  What I mean is, we don’t realize just how easy it is to eat poop.  Children are often the ones who break rule #1.  Kids do their chores and clean the litter box and then pick up the bag of chips or cookie, and Bingo! They ate poop.  Grown-ups often let “Fluffy” or “Spike” sniff that steaming pile on the ground and then they “kiss” you on the mouth.  Now you’ve eaten poo too! Other ways you can prevent eating poop:  when walking your dog, scoop the poop!  Wear gloves when cleaning the litter box.  (If you don’t want to wear gloves, wash your hands thoroughly before touching anything else.) If you have outdoor cats, wash your hands after gardening.  Kitties love to use gardens as bathrooms.  Always wash your hands after handling anything pet-related; even something as simple as their bedding.  Use the hottest water you can stand, and mentally sing “Twinkle Twinkle”, or “Happy Birthday” two times during hand washing in order to be most effective.   If you break rule #1 and eat #2, it leads us right in to my next life lesson about parasites:

Lesson #2:

Humans CAN get pet parasites.  That’s right, you can get parasites from “Fluffy”.  We are all pretty familiar with fleas, ticks, and heartworms, but did you know that going barefoot puts you at risk for hookworm infection if you step on a larva in the environment? Each parasite has its own method of transmission, but just knowing that it can happen may make us all more aware.

Lesson #3:

Heartworms can infect indoor-only pets.  Heartworms are transmitted through a bite from an infected mosquito. One of the species of mosquito that has been found to carry infective heartworms prefers to try and get indoors.  If you don’t give your indoor-only pet his or her monthly preventative, this can be putting them at risk for heartworm disease.  Unfortunately, cats cannot be treated for heartworm disease, and if infected, can suffer a list of severe upper respiratory ailments, including death!

Lesson #4:

The most common tapeworms of dogs and cats come from eating fleas.  If you’ve ever seen those little white “worms” that look like rice in their poo, you’ve seen tapeworms. This also means that “Fluffy” has at some point, eaten a flea.  Owners hate hearing that their pet has fleas, but this is the ONLY way this particular tapeworm is transmitted. Preventing fleas is the easiest way to prevent tapeworms.  Your veterinarian can recommend many products for successful flea (and other parasite) prevention.

Lesson #5:

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it is going to save you a lot of money too!  Heartworm preventative for dogs can cost about $150 per year for a 50-100 pound dog.  Heartworm treatment for the same dog could cost you more than $1,000.  It is painful for “Fluffy”, and requires strict cage rest after the treatment is administered.  When we’re talking about our feline friends, $75 yearly for heartworm prevention sure beats the alternative!

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