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Why It's Worth Practicing Flea, Tick, & Internal Parasite Prevention at Home | Hastings Veterinary Hospital

Why It’s Worth Practicing Flea, Tick, & Internal Parasite Prevention at Home

Fleas, ticks, and parasites are the bane of every pet owner’s existence. If you’ve never experienced an infestation firsthand, chances are you know someone who has. Or at the very least, you’ve heard about how difficult it can be to eradicate. 

No pet owner likes seeing their furry friend in discomfort, and no one likes having tiny, irritating pests in their home. Thankfully, with proper prevention, you can avoid issues with parasites completely, saving your pet, your home, and yourself from a long and costly treatment process.

But what exactly does prevention for fleas, ticks, and other parasites look like? And what’s the best way to go about it for different kinds of animals? Read on for some pet care tips on how and why to prevent parasites in your home for your cat, dog, or rabbit.

First, We Need to Understand the Different Kinds of Parasites

In order to best prevent pests from entering your home and making life difficult for your pet in the first place, we have to understand more about these tiny parasites. There are three common groups of the kinds of pests that pet owners need to be on the lookout for the most, which are:

1. Fleas

Fleas are small, wingless insects, whose primary food source is blood from other animals. Rather than flying, they jump relatively long distances in order to latch onto a host animal. If they’re able to stay attached to a cat, dog, or rabbit for long enough, they’ll eventually reproduce, laying eggs in the animal’s coat and advancing the infestation at a rapid rate.

Fleas typically enter the home on a pet that’s been outside. However, they can also enter your house via people, visiting pets, or even by catching a ride on unwanted pests like rats or mice.

Fleas can create a number of problems for affected animals, including:

  • Prolonged discomfort from countless, itchy bites
  • Repetitive scratching/gnawing on itchy areas, leading to broken, irritated skin and potential infections
  • Other parasites, such as tapeworms, which can be passed from a flea to a pet via bites

2. Ticks

Ticks are another type of parasitic insect that survives by feeding on blood from other animals. There are a number of ticks in North America that are capable of infesting a dog, cat, or rabbit. These include:

  • American dog tick
  • Deer/black-legged tick
  • Brown dog ticks
  • Lone star tick

Ticks have a long lifespan of about 2-3 years, during which they prefer to feed on different types of animals depending on where they are in their life cycle. Ticks like to live in forested areas, and are therefore most likely to infest any animal that spends a lot of time outdoors. Like fleas, ticks can pass on a number of serious health issues to the animals they bite, including:

  • Lyme disease
  • Ehrlichiosis (A type of blood infection)
  • Anaplasmosis (A different type of blood infection)
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever (A bacteria-based disease)

3. Internal parasites

There are several types of internal parasites that can be contracted by dogs, cats, and rabbits. Each of these parasites is very different in terms of their symptoms and risks during an active infestation. Some of the most common ones that pet owners should be aware of are:

  • Roundworms
  • Hookworms
  • Whipworms
  • Tapeworms

These parasites can be picked up by your pet in a number of ways, such as eating contaminated soil, licking the fur of an infected animal, or drinking contaminated water. Because these various parasites act so differently, there are a number of potential health problems that may arise as a result of an infestation. Here are a few of them:

  • Internal parasites will steal nutrients from your pet, causing malnutrition over time
  • Growing infestations can lead to issues throughout the body, such as respiratory diseases
  • Blood-sucking parasites can gradually cause severe blood loss in a pet over time

Parasite Prevention for Dogs

As a dog owner, worrying about potential pest and parasite infestations is probably the last thing on your mind. However, parasite prevention is absolutely vital in keeping your pet safe and healthy throughout their lives. While your veterinarian will of course help your pet overcome any infestations to the best of their ability, the best option is to use prevention. This will save yourself and your pet from long recovery times and future health issues.

Here are the best ways you can practice parasite prevention for your dog.

For fleas:

Fleas are a serious issue for dogs and their owners, but with proper care, you can almost completely sidestep the problem completely. First of all, ensure your dog is on an appropriate preventative medication, which your vet will be able to prescribe. Typically, these will be an oral tablet or a topical solution that needs to be regularly given to your dog, usually on a monthly basis. When you’re up to date on flea medication, any flea that bites your dog will die, meaning they won’t get the chance to lay eggs and start an infestation.

From here, it’s simply a matter of keeping an eye on your dog. Are they scratching or gnawing at their skin excessively? Are you noticing red, irritated skin on their neck, belly, or hindquarters? These can all be signs of fleas, so be sure to give them regular checks (in addition to their medication) to ensure you catch any infestations early on.

For ticks:

Ticks are an unpleasant problem for any dog to have, but thankfully most flea treatments for dogs work the same way for ticks, meaning that any tick landing on your pet will probably be killed on contact—preventing them from passing on serious diseases or creating a long-term infection. 

You should also regularly check your pet for ticks, especially in the warm, moist areas of the body that these pests are attracted to, such as the belly, groin, under the collar,  and the ears.

For other parasites:

Your veterinarian should be your number one resource when it comes to preventing other internal parasites in your dog. Depending on your location, as well as your dog’s breed and age, they’ll be able to make recommendations for preventative medications to prevent heartworm, roundworm, and other parasites. Also, keeping your pet safe from fleas with the aforementioned treatments can go a long way, as fleas are often the way these parasites are introduced to your dog. 

Beyond prescribed medications, you should take care to not let your dog eat anything that’s potentially contaminated. In particular, animal feces and any surrounding water or soil should be particularly avoided, as it can often lead to an infection if ingested.

Parasite Prevention for Cats

Cats have a lot in common with dogs when it comes to parasite prevention, but there are a couple of differences. Because many cats only live indoors, they’re inherently at lower risk of contracting parasites. However, the risk is never zero, particularly if they’re exposed to another animal that does spend time outside. Here’s what you should know about preventing parasites for cats. 

For fleas:

Preventative flea treatment for cats is very similar to the best methods for dogs, but there is one caveat: NEVER give a cat flea medication that’s intended for a dog, or vice versa. What helps one type of pet stay safe can actually be incredibly dangerous to another, and this is especially true for oral and topical flea medications.

Your vet will give you recommendations and prescriptions to keep your cat safe if they spend time outdoors or are around outdoor animals, so be diligent about applying these medications to keep them safe. Other options, such as flea collars, can also be helpful in preventing infestations.

For ticks:

As with dogs, most proactive flea treatments for cats also work on ticks and act as a barrier preventing the pests from biting your furry friend. Always double-check the medications you use to ensure they also protect from ticks, and ask your veterinarian when in doubt.

For other parasites: 

Your veterinarian will recommend treatments that can go a long way in preventing heartworm and other serious parasites from infecting your cat. Typically, a broad-spectrum medication to be used and administered year-round will protect your cat from the vast majority of parasites out there. 

Make sure that your cat is inspected annually (at least) by your veterinarian to catch any infestations before they become more serious.

Parasite Prevention for Rabbits

Because the majority of pet rabbits are exclusively indoor animals, tick, flea, and parasite prevention can look a little different for these animals. Here’s what you need to know about parasite prevention as a rabbit owner.

For fleas:

Similar to dogs and cats, there are topical flea preventative products that are safe for rabbits. Given their small size, there are limited safe products for rabbits so only use flea products recommended by your veterinarian.

For ticks:

Sadly, there aren’t many preventative tick treatments for rabbits. If your rabbit lives indoors, the odds of them being bitten by a tick are very low. But if they’re ever outside or exposed to animals who do go outside, there’s a chance a tick could find its way to your furry friend. The best way to prevent tick infestations in your rabbit is to simply check them regularly for any signs of infection. If deemed necessary by your vet, a preventative medication might be recommended, but this is much less common than in cats and dogs.

For other parasites:

These days, veterinarians usually don’t recommend routine treatment for internal parasites on your rabbit. Infestations of parasites like intestinal worms are rare in rabbits, and often don’t lead to many health troubles when they do occur. In general, keep an eye on your rabbit, and if they’re exhibiting unusual behaviour, such as lethargy, poor appetite, or unexplained weight loss, always bring them to your veterinarian to be examined.

As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into proactively keeping your beloved pet safe from parasites. There’s a lot that you can do at home to help keep your furry friend safe and healthy. However, in most cases when it comes to preventing parasites of all kinds, there really is no substitute for top-quality veterinary care.

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Hastings Veterinary Hospital and a clickable link back to this page.

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