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Parasites

Parasites are not just annoying and unpleasant, they can be dangerous both to our pets and ourselves, transmitting all sorts of diseases.

Different species of pets are affected by different parasites, and their lifestyle will also have an impact as to which parasites they are most likely to be exposed to.

Itchy cat

What are the parasites that affect our pets?

External parasites (ectoparasites)

External parasites live on or in the skin or in the fur of our pets, or come to feed for a short period of time.  Some feed on skin cells while others suck blood through the skin.  The blood-suckers can often transmit diseases from one animal to another, while those that feed on skin cells may be very irritating and cause intense itching.

Fleas are everywhere and are not fussy about where they live. The cat flea is the most common flea found on our pets and it loves our centrally heated homes. Adult fleas suck blood and heavy infestations can cause severe anaemia in young puppies and kittens which can even be fatal.

Fleas also transmit other parasites such as tapeworm, and other diseases such as Bartonella, which can also cause disease in people (known as ‘Cat scratch disease’), and myxomatosis which can be fatal to rabbits. Fleas can also cause severe allergic reactions in some animals.

Flea
Dog scratching

Only 5% of the flea population lives on animals, the rest is in the environment. This means that treating a flea infestation involves treating both pets and house. It takes AT LEAST 3 months to get rid of a flea infestation, often much longer. Preventing fleas in the first place is much, much easier.

All pets, even indoor-only pets, are at risk of fleas as we can bring fleas and their eggs in from outside.

 

How can fleas be prevented?

There are lots of different products on the market to prevent and treat fleas, however they are not all the same. Over-the-counter products from the supermarket or pet shop, whether tablets, spot-ons, collars or shampoos, are rarely effective.

Speak to your vet, or fill in our parasite risk assessment questionnaire to make sure that your pet receives the treatment they need to protect both them and your family.

Girl cuddling Chow Chow

Ticks are blood-sucking arachnids that are very common transmitters of disease.  The most common types of tick in the UK are Ixodes species.  The sheep tick, Ixodes ricinus, is the most frequent of these.  Ticks will bite any mammal, including humans.  Once implanted on an animal, ticks will feed on blood until they are full, or are removed manually.  Once they are full, they will drop off by themselves to complete their life-cycle.

A recent study has shown that up to 1 in 3 dogs at vet practices for other reasons, have ticks present.  The nymphs and larval forms are very tiny and difficult to spot.

Ixodes tick implanted into hair
Dog in long grass

Where can my pet pick up ticks?

Ticks generally live in long grass or bracken, so pets and people who go in these areas are most at risk.  Ticks are particularly common in areas with lots of deer.

Why are ticks dangerous?

Ticks transmit a lot of different diseases.  The most common of these in the UK is Lyme disease, which particularly affects dogs and people and can cause a long-term debilitating illness.

Other tick-borne diseases which are present and are increasing in the UK are Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis and Tick-borne encephalitis.

For dogs travelling overseas, exotic ticks are much more likely to be infected with these diseases, as well as others such as Ehrlichiosis.

Multiple ticks

How can I prevent tick bites?

There are various products available to protect dogs against ticks.  Some of these still require the tick to bite the pet, while some repel and kill on contact.  Which one is most appropriate for your pet will depend on their risk of exposure, and the diseases present in your local area.  Your vet can advise you, or you can fill in the questionnaire below.

There are fewer products available for cats, as most of the tick repellents are toxic to cats (the ones containing the ingredient permethrin).

For people, the best way to prevent bites is to cover the body with clothing, making sure, for example, that trousers are tucked into socks to avoid any gaps for the ticks to hop in!

What should I do if my pet has a tick?

It is always a good idea to check your pet over for ticks after they have been outside, even if they are on preventative medication.

If you find a tick, don’t just pull it off.  This can leave part of the tick behind, leading to an abscess.

The best method is to use a tick twister.  The fork is slid either side of the tick, you then twist the hook and the tick comes free.  No pulling is necessary!  Using things like butter to suffocate the tick first can actually increase the risk of them transmitting diseases.

If you are unsure, ask your vet or vet nurse for assistance.  If your pet is not already on tick prevention medication, it is worth starting them on this as some ticks are extremely tiny and difficult to see with the naked eye, particularly through fur.  If your pet has one tick, the chances are, they will have more!

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Ear mites are fairly common in puppies and kittens.  A different species can also be found in rabbits.  They feed on the skin and waxy secretions of the ear canal.

Ear mites are extremely itchy, however they are fairly uncommon in older animals.  If your older dog or cat has an itchy ear, it is probably due to an allergy or a bacterial or yeast infection, not ear mites.

Thin kitten with waxy ears
Cat lying next to puppy

Where can my pet pick up ear mites?

Ear mites are contagious between dogs and cats but do not affect people.  Rabbits cannot get dog or cat mites, but their ear mites are also infectious to other rabbits.

How are ear mites treated?

Ear mites can be treated with a variety of products from your vet.  Some flea prevention products will also treat ear mites, but sometimes an ear drop preparation is used.  Nothing will kill the eggs, and they can take 21 days to develop into adults so it is important to keep up the treatment for at least 3 weeks (most of the flea preparations will last this long after one dose).

Fluffy Tabby Cat

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Internal parasites (endoparasites)

Internal parasites live inside the body, often in the gastrointestinal tract or other organs.  Some can cause severe disease in our pets, while others are more of a human health concern.

What parasites is my pet most at risk from?

If you would like a personalised parasite risk assessment for your pet, please fill in the relevant questionnaire below.  This service costs £15, or is included in all wellbeing visit costs.  Once your questionnaire has been submitted, we will email you a link for payment.  Once payment is received, we will email your pet’s personalised advice within 2 working days.

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