Written by Sonya Kochhar Apicella*
I am sorry – this blog post full of itchy, wriggly things is probably going to make your skin crawl but it has an important message. Please don’t skip on flea and tick prevention and worming of your dogs and cats!
Parasites like fleas, ticks and worms may be small but they cause problems quite out of proportion to their size. They mean great discomfort for your pet and can be fatal in some cases. To add to the problems, some of the pests can cause severe illness and even death in humans.
Fleas are easy to pick up and most dogs and cats suffer from them at some time. Luckily, these troublesome bloodsuckers are easy to spot, so treatment can begin at once. Symptoms of flea infestation include scratching, biting, hair loss or excessive licking. But these symptoms can also be caused by allergies or mites so you would be wise to check your pet’s coat to see if you can actually see the pests. Fleas are half the size of an apple pip but can be as big as a rice grain. If you don’t see fleas, look for flea waste, which resembles tiny bits of dirt on the skin.
To prevent re-infestation you will have to thoroughly vacuum the house and wash your pet’s bedding.
Here are some suggestions to stop fleas from hitch-hiking on your dog.
- Wash your dog regularly with lukewarm water and mild soap
- Use a flea comb, collar or spray. Some experts advise that flea collars should not be worn in the house
- Some people advise natural flea deterrents such as lemon juice, apple cider vinegar or lavender oil, but please note that these should not be used on cats
If you find your dog or cat has fleas, please take your vet’s advice on the best treatments. If you buy a product over the counter, do make sure it is suitable for cats. For flea prevention, spot-on treatments are known to be safer, more convenient, and more effective than traditional dusts, shampoos, and sprays.
Keeping your pets free of fleas will help stop infestation with another creepy parasite, the tapeworm. Fleas are hosts to tapeworm larvae and if your dog or cat swallows a flea while grooming then an adult tapeworm can grow inside their intestines.
The monsoon in India is often accompanied by an outbreak of tick fever in Delhi’s dogs and pedigree breeds are the most susceptible. The culprits are usually the brown dog ticks that lurk in the grass and attach themselves to your pet when he is out for a walk. They carry a tiny protozoan parasite that destroys red blood cells, causing anaemia. If not caught quickly enough, tick fever can kill, so keep a close eye on your pooch during the monsoon. Among the first signs of infection are loss of appetite, lethargy, dark-coloured urine and frequent urination.
To prevent tick infestation, brush and comb your dog’s coat when he gets back from a walk. Tick collars, tick sprays and medicated strips available from the vet’s clinic can be used to deter the pests.
Cats can also get tick-borne diseases. If your kitty goes outside a lot check her regularly for ticks. If you find a tick, you must take it off with tweezers or a specially designed tick removal tool. Exert steady pressure to remove the entire tick, including the head. Make sure to disinfect the area after you remove the insect.
The best way to dispose of ticks is to put them in a bottle of alcohol and close it tightly before throwing it away. You would also be wise to wear gloves to avoid touching the tick, and wash your hands afterwards.
If you are concerned that your cat might have contracted a tick-borne disease please contact your vet at once, and never give her over-the-counter anti-tick products designed for dogs.
The most common types of worm infecting dogs and cats are roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms. Of these, only two are commonly seen in dog or cat stool with the unaided eye: roundworms and tapeworms. If you take your pet to the vet for a suspected worm infestation you may need to bring along a stool sample for testing.
Worms in dogs
Roundworms look like strands of spaghetti and can be up to 20 cm in length. Your dog can pick them up by sniffing another dog’s poop or playing in a place that has been previously contaminated with dog faeces.
Tapeworms are flattened worms with segmented bodies. Tapeworms are transmitted to dogs by an intermediate host such as a flea. When the dog eats the flea while grooming, he becomes infected.
Dogs with worms will show the following symptoms:
- Weight loss
- Worms visible in poop, vomit or under the tail
- Scooting along on his bottom to relieve the itch
- General loss of condition including dull coat
- Flaky skin
If you spot these signs then take immediate action. Consult your vet about what treatment to use but also ask their advice on a year-round worm prevention programme because it is really easy for reinfection to occur. Deworming every three months is a good plan.
Worms in cats
Many cats with worm infestations show no symptoms and the parasites go undetected causing potential health problems for the host. Some feline parasitic worms can also pose dangers to human health.
If the cat has a serious worm problem then the following symptoms may be seen:
- Bloody stool
- Potbellied appearance
- Weight loss
- Worms visible in stool or worm segments seen under tail
Roundworms are the most common wrigglers that infect cats and some types of roundworms can be dangerous to humans, especially children.
Large concentrations of roundworm eggs can accumulate in places where cats poop and these can cause blindness in people. It is estimated that approximately 10,000 children are infected with roundworms every year.
To prevent your cat from getting worms, take the following steps:
- Try to keep your cat indoors to limit her exposure to sources of infection
- Keep your home, verandah and garden free of fleas
- Always wear gloves when changing the cat litter.
- Ask your vet to recommend a worm treatment or prevention
For all these parasites, prevention is better than cure. Keep your pets and human family happy and healthy by being up to date with your flea, tick and worm treatments.
*Sonya Kochhar Apicella is the founder and President of the Delhi based animal welfare organisation, Indian Canine Upliftment Centre (ICUC). She has been a pet expert for over 10 years.