Internal and external parasites can cause serious illnesses in dogs and cats, and pets do not always display obvious signs and symptoms of infection. Annual testing for parasites and monthly parasite prevention are critical to preventing certain illnesses in your pet and keeping them as healthy as possible.
The most common internal parasites in the Boulder area include roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, whipworms, and giardia. While all are spread in different ways through the environment and between pets, they can all cause serious illnesses in both pets and humans. In most instances, infections of these parasites do not show many external signs and symptoms until they have greatly developed. Consistent monthly parasite prevention and annual testing are paramount to preventing infection in your pet.
Fleas and ticks are the most common external parasite affecting dogs and cats. They can be transmitted between pets or through the environment. While most pets are exposed to these parasites from being outdoors on walks or in parks, it’s possible for humans to track these parasites into the house. Common symptoms of infestations include itching, hair loss, allergies, and skin infections. External parasites can also carry other diseases such as Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. It is important for all pets in your home to be on prevention year-round. Without consistent prevention, your pet is significantly more susceptible to infestations.
Heartworms are a parasite transmitted by mosquitoes. Symptoms of heartworm infection include coughing, aversion to exercise, lethargy, and even sudden death. Symptoms do not generally develop, especially in cats, until the parasite has proliferated significantly. Prevention and early detection are key in diagnosing and treating disease caused by parasites before it becomes too serious.
Common Heartworm FAQs
Heartworms are a parasitic roundworm transmitted by mosquitoes that travel through the bloodstream and eventually reside and procreate in the heart. Pets typically do not show clinical signs when first infected but will become obviously more ill as the disease progresses.
Heartworm is spread through mosquitoes, but not all mosquitoes carry heartworm. Once a mosquito has bitten a heartworm-positive animal, they can then spread the disease to any animal that it feeds on moving forward. While heartworms cannot be spread directly between pets, a heartworm-positive pet is considered a carrier until the disease is completely treated and therefore can be a potential source of infection to other pets.
Yes, both dogs and cats are able to contract heartworm.
Cats and dogs show similar signs when infected with heartworm, but symptoms are usually not as obvious in cats, with sudden death being the most likely outcome.
Signs in dogs
- Mild cough
- Reluctance to exercise
- Fatigue after moderate activity
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
Signs in cats
- Asthma attacks
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
The most common way to diagnose heartworm is through a blood test. A simple blood test is performed to detect if your dog is heartworm positive by screening for a toxin (heartworm antigen) that stimulates an immune response. If the infection is still in an early stage, sometimes this test will be falsely negative. In this case, a more extensive blood panel can be performed to provide a more accurate result.
Additional testing can include radiographs or an echocardiogram.
The most effective way to prevent heartworm is with year-round, consistent prevention. You can also use additional methods to help protect your pet from mosquitoes, such as screens doors, keeping windows and doors closed, and avoiding areas with stagnant water.
While carrier mosquitoes can infect humans by feeding on them the same way they do pets, the heartworm parasite is not able to survive in the human bloodstream.