Parasites and Dog Parks

 

PARASITES AND DOG PARKS

 

PARASITES AND DOG PARKS

Sometimes when I see the results of a scientific study, I can’t help but think, “That’s interesting, but how relevant is it to my life?” That was not the case when I ran across “Prevalence of Giardia and Cryptosporidium species in dog park attending dogs compared to non-dog park attending dogs in one region of Colorado.”

The researchers are from Colorado State University (CSU), and there are two big dog parks within a couple of miles of campus, both of which my dog regularly attends.

The scientists collected feces from and surveyed the owners of 129 dogs that belonged to students or staff from CSU. Analysis of the fecal samples (66 from dog park attendees and 63 from non-dog park attendees) revealed that the dogs that frequented dog parks were more likely to be infected with Giardia and Cryptosporidium than dogs that did not. Overall, the prevalence of all gastrointestinal parasites in the 129 dogs was 7 percent. These results are not too surprising. After all, dogs poop at the dog park, and GI parasites are primarily transmitted through contact with contaminated feces.


Interestingly, no correlation was found between dog park attendance and clinical signs associated with gastrointestinal parasitism (e.g., diarrhea, vomiting, or inappetence). This can probably be explained by the fact that a healthy adult dog’s immune system is often able to control Giardia and Cryptosporidium infections to the point where no symptoms develop. Also, the study’s sample size was not very large. It is possible that a larger study that is more representative of the general population (i.e., not just veterinary students and staff) could have different results in this regard.

The take-home message from this research is this:

If you take your dog to the dog park, you need to put extra emphasis on your gastrointestinal parasite control program.

Many heartworm preventatives and broad spectrum dewormers do a good job of controlling hookworm, roundworm, and sometimes whipworm infestations, but they are ineffective against other types of parasites, including Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Fecal examinations are not foolproof either, which is why I typically recommend a combination of fecal testing and prophylactic deworming for dogs at significant risk of parasitism.

Even more importantly, if your dog develops symptoms consistent with gastrointestinal parasitism, make sure that your veterinarian knows whether or not your dog attends a dog park or comes in frequent contact with canine fecal material in any another way. Diagnosing a Giardia or Cryptosporidium infection is not always easy, and your veterinarian will need to get an idea of your dog’s individual risk factors to decide which diagnostic tests are most likely to bear fruit.

Ticks Don’t Jump, They Climb

Ticks Don't Jump They ClimbTicks Don't Jump They Climb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Are Ticks?
Ticks are small, eight-legged parasites that must drink blood in order to survive and reproduce. Ticks don’t fly, and they can’t jump (unlike fleas). In fact, ticks are more closely related to spiders and mites than to “insects” like fleas. Of the hundreds of tick species, approximately 80 are found in the United States. Ticks can feed on a variety of hosts including birds, dogs, cats, and people.

Why Are Ticks a Problem?
If a dog is heavily infested with ticks, the parasites can drink enough blood to cause anemia (severe blood loss). However, ticks are mostly a concern because of the diseases they can transmit to their hosts. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are among the dangerous diseases that ticks can transmit to your dog. Although people can’t catch these diseases from dogs directly, infected ticks can bite people and transmit them. If your dog is exposed to these dangers, chances are that you and your family may also be at risk for exposure.

How Do Dogs Get Ticks?
Despite a very popular myth, ticks don’t fall or jump out of trees onto a host. However, ticks can climb, and they tend to attach themselves to shrubs and blades of tall grass. They can also live in dens of rodents and other small mammals. One species of tick can even live indoors.

When a host walks by and brushes against the grass or shrub where the tick is waiting, the tick climbs onto the host. Once on a new host, the tick eventually finds a location to attach and feed. For some diseases, like Lyme disease, a tick must be attached for several hours in order to transmit the infection to a host. This means that if you check your dog (and yourself) daily, you have a chance of finding and removing any ticks before they can transmit Lyme disease.

How Can I Protect My Dog From Ticks?
Keeping your dog out of wooded areas, tall grass, and other tick habitats is a good way to reduce the risk of exposure. However, this can be difficult for many pet owners, especially if they share an active outdoor lifestyle with their dog.

Effective tick control products can be used on dogs to help protect them from ticks. There are many options, including spot-on liquid products and collars. Your veterinarian can recommend a safe and effective product for your dog.

Remember that ticks are successful parasites that can be difficult to kill. Even if you are using an effective tick control product, you should still check your dog daily for ticks and remove any as soon as you find them. You should never remove a tick with your fingers. Tweezers work well, but be sure to grasp the tick close to the head and pull gently to avoid leaving the mouthparts imbedded in the skin. There are also tick removal tools that are very easy to use. Avoid using lighter fluid, matches, or other products that may irritate the skin or cause other injuries to your dog. When in doubt, ask your veterinary care team for assistance removing the tick.

Why Are Ticks a Problem for Cats?
It may be tempting to dismiss the importance of ticks on cats, because cats are less likely to be diagnosed with Lyme disease and some of the other diseases that ticks transmit to people and dogs. However, there are still reasons to be concerned about your cat coming into contact with ticks.

If a cat is heavily infested with ticks, the parasites can drink enough blood to cause anemia (severe blood loss). Additionally, if your cat brings ticks into the house, your family members could be exposed to Lyme disease and other diseases that ticks can transmit if they bite people. Ticks can transmit a disease called cytauxzoonosis (pronounced sight-oh-zo-uh-nosis) to cats.

This disease causes serious illness and even death in infected cats. Cytauxzoonosis is actually caused by two parasites. The first parasite, an infected tick, bites a cat and transmits the second parasite, a single-celled parasite called Cytauxzoon felis, to the cat. Once infected with Cytauxzoon felis, the cat may develop severe clinical signs, including:

  • High fever
  • Lethargy (tiredness)
  • Appetite loss

The infection progresses very quickly (over a period of days) and many infected cats die from this disease.

Less commonly, cats can also contract tularemia from tick bites. Signs of this disease include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Oral ulcers
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Painful abdomen

Humans can become infected with tularemia if they are bitten or scratched by a cat with the disease.

There is a popular myth that cats groom themselves so frequently and thoroughly that they remove all of their ticks. However, ticks can attach to the face, ears, and other areas that are difficult for cats to groom. This means that even a cat that grooms meticulously can still have a problem with ticks.

How Do Cats Get Ticks?
Despite a very popular myth, ticks don’t fall or jump out of trees onto a host. However, ticks can climb, and they tend to attach themselves to shrubs and blades of tall grass. They can also live in dens of rodents and other small mammals. One species of tick can even live indoors. When a host walks by and brushes against the grass or shrub where the tick is waiting, the tick climbs onto the host. Once on a new host, the tick eventually finds a location to attach and feed. Cats that roam or hunt rodents and small mammals are likely to be exposed to ticks, especially if they have access to wooded areas. However, even indoor cats can be exposed to ticks if dogs or humans bring ticks into the house.

How Can I Protect My Cat From Ticks?
Keeping your cat indoors can reduce the risk of exposure to ticks. If you have other pets that go outside and can bring ticks into the house, use an effective form of tick control and check them daily for ticks. If your cat must go outside, limiting exposure to wooded areas, tall grass, and other tick habitats is a good idea. However, this can be difficult if the cat roams freely and has access to these areas.

Safe and effective tick-control products can be used on cats to help protect them from ticks. There are many options, so ask your veterinarian about the best choice for your cat.

Remember that ticks are successful parasites that can be difficult to kill. Even if you are using an effective tick control product, you should still check your cat daily for ticks and remove any as soon as you find them. You should never remove a tick with your fingers. Tweezers work well, but be sure to grasp the tick close to the head and pull gently to avoid leaving the mouthparts imbedded in the skin. There are also tick removal tools that are very easy to use. Avoid using lighter fluid, matches, or other products that may irritate the skin or cause other injuries to your cat. When in doubt, ask your veterinary care team for assistance removing the tick.

Hunting, Hiking and Heartworm

By Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Although heartworm prevention techniques, including mosquito avoidance and drugs that kill heartworm larvae, have been recommended for years, the number of dogs diagnosed with heartworm continues to increase. One factor that contributes to the persistence of this preventable disease is “prophylactic failure,” which means that animals develop the disease even though they received a prophylactic drug to prevent heartworm for at least 1 year or season.

Other Insect-Borne Diseases to ConsiderAccording to the Canine Vector-Borne Diseases website (www.cvbd.org), insects are a growing concern. Other insects, such as fleas and ticks, spread diseases like tapeworm and Lyme disease, respectively. Discuss ways to “Fight the Bite” with your veterinarian and ensure your pet is adequately protected.

Hunting, Hiking and Heartworm
Heartworm is caused by the parasite Dirofilaria immitis. When a mosquito feeds on a dog that is infected with female heartworms, the “baby” worms, microfilariae, are taken in with the blood meal and grow to become infective in the mosquito’s mouthparts. The next time that mosquito bites a dog, the infective heartworm larvae enter its bloodstream and grow into adult heartworms. The adult female heartworms produce additional microfilariae, which are spread to more dogs and sometimes cats.

A recent study published in the May/June 2011 edition of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association (JAAHA) looked at the occurrence of prophylactic failure in hunting dogs.

“Of the 708 dog owners who participated in the study, 9% reported failure of prophylaxis. The dogs tested positive for heartworm even though a heartworm prophylaxis had been administered,” stated lead author Barton Rohrbach, VMD, MPH, Dipl. ACVPM (Epidemiology) from the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

According to Dr. Rohrbach, many of the dogs were not treated or tested for heartworm appropriately:

  • Dogs were treated using an estimated rather than actual body weight (and therefore could have been administered too little of the drug).
  • Owners did not record the date the drug was administered and relied on memory to treat their dog each month (resulting in missed doses).
  • 13% of owners observed their pet spit the pills out (many owners may not notice this, resulting in more missed doses).
  • Only 79% of owners tested their dog every year for heartworm (recommended by the American Heartworm Society). Testing was frequently performed at the incorrect time of the year; therefore, infections may have been missed.
  • Newly acquired dogs were frequently not tested prior to or at the time of acquisition.

Study participants also reported a failure to practice mosquito avoidance techniques, such as remaining indoors at dusk and dawn.

“Imperfect” Cats

For once, it is a benefit to be imperfect. Cats are susceptible but are imperfect hosts to the worm, making cats more resistant to infection with adult Dirofilaria immitis than dogs. Be aware, however, that many experts believe feline heartworm occurs more frequently than we think.

“This study suggests that simple steps, such as weighing the dog to determine the correct dose of preventive, watching to ensure oral medications are retained, and recording the actual date the medication is administered each month, are not being followed by many dog owners. These may be important factors leading to prophylaxis failure,” added Dr. Rohrbach.

A single missed dose of a heartworm preventive puts dogs and cats at increased risk to acquire heartworm, particularly animals that spend a lot of time outdoors.

For more information on preventing heartworm, visit the American Heartworm Society (www.heartwormsociety.org) and the Companion Animal Parasite Council (www.capcvet.org/recommendations/heartworm.html).

HOW TO… GIVE YOUR PET A PILL

HOW TO… GIVE YOUR PET A PILL

One of the most frustrating things with a pet is the inability to give them medicine they vitally need. We’ll tell you of a few methods/tricks you can use, but the truth is, you should start preparing your pet to take pills when they aren’t sick.

See, the most common way to get a pet to take a pill is to hide it in a treat. So, if from a young age, you teach your pet to relish special treats that they only get on special occasions, it will make it easier to get them to take the pill/treat concoction. The best treats to use are moist ones such as cheese, cream cheese, tuna or hot dog chunks, treats that will allow you to easily hide smashed pills and popped gel caps.

Now, there are some differences between giving a pill to a dog or cat.

So if you have a dog …

You’ll want to put the pill in a treat, but be sure and give the dog a couple of pill-free treats first before you throw in the one with the pill. Now, some dogs are pretty sharp so that even having been fed pill-free treats, they’ll sense the medicine in the key treat and eat around it. If that happens you’ll have to employ more direct methods.

 

Take your dog firmly, open his mouth and drop the pills as far back in their mouth as you can. Now clamp your dog’s mouth shut and hold until you see or feel them swallow. It shouldn’t take more than 10 seconds. Here’s a tip: if your dog licks his nose, it usually means he’s swallowed the pill.

If you have a cat, feeding a pill-infused treat may be best done by putting it in a bit of cream cheese and letting your cat lick it off your finger. You might just put it in their food dish. Since cats usually eat less than dogs, you may have to put the pill in several treats and spread the dosage out.

HOW TO… REMOVE A TICK

(courtesy K9web.com)

When you find a tick, use tweezers to pick up the body and pull s-l-o-w-l-y and gently, and the mouthparts will release.

You should see a small crater in your dog’s skin; if you see what looks like black lines, you’ve left the head of the tick in. At this point, if your dog is mellow enough, you should try and pick it out. Otherwise, you may need to take your pet into the vet, as the head parts will lead to an infection.

Ticks carry a lot of rickettsial diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, so you should wash your hands thoroughly with soap after handling a tick.

Now, go take a three-hour shower.