By Jodi Hartley

You probably hear and see about fleas, ticks, heartworms and other icky-sounding parasites on television commercials, visits to your vet or pet websites. But knowing the differences among the parasites and how they affect your pooch and determining how to prevent your dog from getting them can be challenging. Here’s a quick rundown.

Common Parasites

Fleas are tiny black insects that suck blood on both people and dogs. They can be very irritating and if left uncontrolled can cause severe skin problems.

Ticks are in the same family as spiders and latch onto your dog. Like fleas, they are bloodsuckers. There are a number of different types of ticks and many are carriers of potentially fatal diseases such as Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Heartworms come from mosquitoes. When a female mosquito carrying heartworm larvae bites a dog, the larvae travel from the mosquito’s saliva to the dog’s heart, where they reproduce. Untreated heartworms are eventually fatal for dogs.

Mites come in three forms: Ear mites, which cause itching and irritation in the ears; Demodex mites, which lead to mange; and Cheyletiella mites, which cause itchy skin and dandruff.

Whipworms are a parasite found in the dog’s intestine that can cause gastrointestinal problems. They are easy to contract because the eggs from an infected dog exit through the feces. If another dog eats the feces or walks through it and then licks his feet, he can easily end up with whipworms.

Roundworms are another internal parasite and are commonly found in puppies. Puppies typically contract them through the mother’s placenta or her milk. Older puppies and adult dogs contract them from eating roundworm eggs or from eating infected rodents. A severe roundworm infection can be deadly to dogs, and humans also can contract roundworms.

Hookworms also are gastrointestinal parasites that can be found in both puppies and adult dogs. Because of they bite and feed on the intestine, they can be quite painful as well as cause anemia and diarrhea. Untreated hookworms can be fatal in dogs, and humans can contract them too. Like roundworms, they can be contracted from the mother dog or from ingesting animals or the feces of animals infected with hookworms.

Tapeworms find their way to a dog’s small intestine when he eats an animal infected with tapeworms. Tapeworms generally don’t cause much discomfort but they do deplete the dog’s nutrients over time causing weight loss and an overall lack of health.

Treatment and Prevention

A variety of monthly treatments are available to combat fleas and heartworms. Some also kill ticks and whipworms, roundworms and hookworms, or mites and come in topical, oral, spray and collar forms.

All normal, healthy dogs should receive flea and heartworm preventative at the interval recommended by the manufacturer. Dogs with health conditions, such as those already heartworm positive, need to follow the recommendations given by a veterinarian.

Selecting the right preventative for your dog can be overwhelming as each treats either a single parasite or a mixed combination. Nothing on the market today treats every single parasite. Also, for dogs with any of the “worm” infections, a deworming treatment will be needed along with a preventative. The same goes for mites. Each will need a targeted treatment to get rid of the mites before starting a preventative.

Working with your veterinarian, you need to look at several factors:

What parasites are common in your area? If ticks aren’t common in your part of the U.S. then tick preventative isn’t needed.

Your home environment. Do you live in a heavily wooded area? Do you have a lot of wildlife nearby? Then treating ticks and all the “worms” is important.

Your lifestyle. Does your dog go swimming or boating frequently? You may want an oral or collar treatment instead of a topical treatment.

Your budget. The treatment needs to be affordable for you so you can maintain it.

Your dog. Does he spit out pills? Won’t sit still to apply a topical treatment? Determine how best to deliver his treatment.

You and your family. Can’t stand the thought of putting chemicals on your dog? Some good all natural repellents are on the market today that may be a good fit for your family’s needs. Have young children that you don’t want topical treatment rubbing off on when they pet your pooch? Then you may want to look at oral treatments.

Article References:

PetWave: Parasites of Dogs. Veterinary Medicine: Canine Parasites.

Quinebaug Valley Veterinary Hospital: How to Choose Heartworm, Flea & Tick Preventatives for Your Dog or Cat.