Parasite Season

We keep using this phrase and I felt it may need a further description, as we in the profession use it so often we expect others around us know what we group into it. Sadly, the term “parasite season” is ever evolving as new and even grosser bugs adapt to our climate.

What is a parasite?

A parasite is an organism that has sustained contact with another organism to the detriment of the host organism. In other words; something that will live on, or feed on another creature to survive or procreate.

Locally, parasite season begins in the warmer months of spring. The first and likely most feared parasite emerges at four degrees Celsius. The tick enjoys the spring and the fall most but will be out to torment us and our pets all year round. With our fluctuating weather, every month will have at least one day that hits 4 degrees Celsius awakening these guys to become a nuisance. For this reason, it is best to have your pet protected all year round for ticks.

Fleas can live in your home all year long, but they often emerge in the spring. Flea eggs can wait to hatch throughout the winter until they feel the proper heat and humidity. The cocoon stage or pupae will wait to emerge as an adult flea until they feel the vibration of movement on the floor and there is carbon dioxide present. This is why we do not see insects as often in the winter. This also explains why your summer vacation home may be filled with fleas just after you arrive.

Mosquitos plague us all and love the sunny days of spring and summer. These nasty critters are quite annoying, but more so it is what they can spread to us and our pets that make them even more detested. Our dogs and even cats can get what we call heartworm from a mosquito that stings an infected animal, and then your pet. Heartworm are large worms that live in your pet’s heart, clogging up space and making the heart work harder to pump blood to the body. This nasty worm does not show immediate symptoms, but over time your dog will develop irreversible heart failure. Cats seem to be able to limit the number of worms in the heart, and eliminate them over time whereas a dog can have a ridiculous burden. So prevention is best, and your pet should be on prevention form June 1st until November.

There are many types of intestinal parasites that a dog or cat can get. Some are spread through eating mice or swallowing a single flea. Your pet could simply sniff another dog or cats stool (or wild animals – such as a raccoon) and infect himself with an intestinal parasite. The most common we discuss are roundworm, hookworm and whipworm. The winter kills two out of three of these eggs simply by being outside in the cold so this will help to clean up an infected yard, but the parasite can never be entirely eradicated as there are always animal carriers. This is why you should get regular fecal exams on your pets. Intestinal Parasites take the nourishment your pet should receive from its diet. You may sometimes see a bloated or pot belly with a high infestation. Roundworm and Hookworm also pose a risk to us humans. If the stool is left in the environment and not cleaned up, the eggs can hatch out into a larval form and penetrate our skin leading to skin, eye and even brain conditions.

Parasites often do not come alone, they bring other parasites with them to further infect your pet. I mentioned this earlier with mosquitoes spreading heartworm, fleas spread tapeworm which is an intestinal parasite and ticks spread Lyme Disease as well as Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichia.

We all look forward to summer, but not parasite season. This is why we promote prevention in the nicer weather. You can give your pet a treat, often once a month to prevent an infestation with these unwelcome parasites.

If you would like more information or have any questions at all, we are here to help. Give us a call at Hillcrest Animal Hospital, 613-394-4811.

Written by Darlene Cannon, RVT