How to Prevent Pesky Parasites from Plaguing Pets and People

Springtime is just around the corner again, and you know what that means: parasites, such as fleas, ticks, and mites, are waking up and are more than happy to make you and your pets their new home! Preventing the spread of infestations to other animals and people is a solution you can do year-round. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of a cure,” as the saying goes, and there is a lot you can do as a pet owner to protect your pets and household. One major pest prevention solution is to clean up your pet’s environment, indoors and out.

What We Mean by “Parasite”

By “parasite” we are referring to the general term that covers plants, animals, or insects that live on or inside another living organism, which is referred to as a “host.” The parasite’s survival is dependent on the survival of the host and, in order to flourish, they will travel from one host to another.

Parasites Can be External or Internal

External parasites live on the surface of the host and internal parasites live inside. There are symptoms associated with most parasite infestations, but some are difficult to detect early and cats or dogs can spread parasites without your knowing. This is why regular routine veterinary checkups are so important! Some parasites cannot be found without a veterinarian’s help—that’s how sneaky they are.

Some parasites live on or in both cats and dogs, and some use humans as hosts, too.  Parasites are often passed between animals and most are easily picked up by animals and people that come in contact with them in the environment.

Here are examples of some of the many parasites and the problems they can create for animals and people:

External Parasites 

  • Fleas – The most common external parasite is the ever-annoying flea. They can live on both cats and dogs and create health issues for humans as well. Fleas not only cause terrible itching, but the host might also be allergic to flea bites which makes the itching—if left untreated—almost unbearable. Fleas can also carry tapeworm parasites and pass diseases to humans if the flea problem goes untreated. In Burnaby, Metrotown, Vancouver, and even the Lower Mainland, fleas can live through our mild winter months, which means flea control for both dogs and cats must be practiced all year round.
  • Ticks – Ticks are another nasty parasite that can transmit diseases such as Lyme disease. Ticks can live up to three years without a host. If you happen to discover that a tick has latched on to your cat or dog, do not attempt to remove it yourself! Bring them to the nearest veterinary hospital.
  • Skin mites (Cheylitiella) – Skin mites are an annoying parasite that can live up to 10 days without a host and love to live under a dog or cat’s fur coat! They can cause itching, hair loss, and irritated skin and are highly contagious among pets. They are similar to fleas in terms of symptoms and treatment.
  • Ear mites – Ear mites, or Otodectes, are attracted to the wax and oils in the ears of cats and dogs, and can cause ear infections. The symptoms are discharge, foul odor, ear scratching, and head shaking. Since an ear infection can also be caused by such problems as trapped water and foreign objects, you must have a veterinarian check your pet’s ears to determine the cause and proper treatment.

Internal Parasites

Because most pets with internal parasites show no early symptoms, it is crucial to take your pet for a routine checkup so that a veterinarian can check for them. 

  • Roundworm – Both cats and dogs can catch roundworm and it can be spread to humans through wild animal feces such as from raccoons. The symptoms of roundworm in humans are coughing, pneumonia, fever, and serious eye problems.
  • Toxoplasmosis – Cats are common carriers of this parasite and they spread the disease through their feces. Infected humans show flu-like symptoms and it can be serious for people with compromised immune systems.
  • Cryptosporidiosis – This is another serious illness that can be spread to humans and other animals through animal feces, and can be controlled, but not cured.
  • Tapeworm and Hookworm – Both of these parasites can be spread to both cats and dogs. Cats can ingest them while grooming themselves. They can also be passed to humans if they walk barefoot on parasite-infected soil.
  • Heartworm – Though the cause of heartworm is external (mosquito bites), the effects of heartworm in dogs and cats are internal, spreading to the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Heartworm cannot be spread to other animals or humans, but they are dangerous because they don’t show symptoms for months.

Keep Parasites at Bay with a Clean Environment

You can prevent parasites from attacking your pet and your home by using the protection of oral or topical medications, as well as going to your local veterinary hospital and getting routine checkups performed by your family veterinarian. This will help detect any symptoms of parasites you may have missed.

As well, you can keep your pet’s indoor environment as clean as possible by vacuuming, washing, and scrubbing, and do your best to keep your pet’s outdoor environment uninviting to parasites. Be wary when taking your pet outdoors and discourage them from roaming in areas that are likely to harbor parasites.

Indoor Cleaning Tips:

  • Minimize the spread of parasites between pets by giving them their own separate food and water bowls. If you have multiple cats, each one should have their own separate litter box. Wash dishes and bowls with hot, soapy water, and replace litter often.
  • Routinely wash your cats’ and dogs’ toys, blankets, and bedding.
  • If you have a pet that is being treated for parasites, decontaminate the environment by adding a cup of bleach to a gallon of water to wipe down solid surfaces and floors. Steam clean your carpets. Wash toys, blankets, and bedding in very hot water. Vacuum daily. Also, change the litter in the litter boxes more frequently.
  • Wash your hands after playing with your dog and use gloves and plastic bags when cleaning up feces. Always pick up after them when you’re on a walk and at the beach!
  • Thoroughly wash any vegetables you bring into the house from your garden, and wash your hands when you come in the house after working in the yard.
  • If your pets are allowed on furniture or on beds, remember to clean them as scrupulously as everything else your pets use.

Outdoor Cleaning Tips:

  • Keep grass short and remove leaf litter and brush from around your house and from any concrete or stone walls.
  • Do not stack woodpiles near the house, and clean up debris.
  • If your lawn reaches wooded areas, use a three-foot divide of woodchips, mulch, or gravel to discourage ticks from crossing into the yard.
  • Cover any sandboxes and keep your pets out of outdoor play areas for children.
  • Don’t allow pets to drink from standing water, such as puddles or pools in outdoor containers. On walks, carry a water bottle and portable dish for your dog.
  • Discourage your dog from walking through tall grass or playing in standing water, and don’t allow him or her to eat grass, garbage, or their own feces or that of other animals.
  • Sanitize your dog’s outdoor house and keep concrete walks and patios swept.
  • Remember that humans can bring parasites into the house and so can rodents, so don’t assume that indoor cats, for instance, don’t need preventative parasite treatment.
  • If you have a parasite problem that you have trouble controlling, consider using pesticides outdoors. If you are concerned about chemicals, ask your vet about alternatives.

In addition to preventative solutions and treatments from your veterinarian for parasites, a clean indoor and outdoor environment will help keep your home, yard, pets, and your family parasite-free.

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