Veterinary Q&A: Other pests and parasites pet owners should be aware of

Reposted from
Tails of Seattle: A pets blog
May 31, 2012

Veterinarian Jeffrey F. Duke of Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish, who answered last week's questions about flea control, addresses questions about other pests and parasites that can be harmful to our pets.

Question: In addition to fleas, which you discussed last week, what other parasites/critters should Pacific Northwest pet owners worry about?

Answer: We are fortunate in the Pacific Northwest to not have many parasites. In addition to fleas, our most common problems would be Giardia and ticks.

Giardia is a microscopic protozoan parasite that can infect many mammals, including people. Giardia is found in the feces of infected animals or humans.

A common source for infection is contaminated water sources.

Sometimes referred to as "beaver fever," Giardia is well known among hikers and others who enjoy the outdoors and may drink from streams, rivers or ponds that can be contaminated by wildlife or livestock.

Giardia is primarily known for causing vomiting and dysentery signs. To prevent your pet from getting Giardia, provide fresh drinking water and don't allow him or her to drink from potentially contaminated water sources.

Ticks seem to be a problem in certain locations.

Because deer are a reservoir for ticks, often the most common places ticks are a problem are where deer populations are higher. Central and Eastern Washington have a more significant tick problem than we experience in the Puget Sound.

Ticks are known to carry a number of diseases that can be transmitted to mammals, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

When visiting areas know for ticks, using one of several products labeled to kill ticks is important, as well as looking over your pet for any sign of tick attachment.

There is no good tick repelling product - in all cases, ticks will have to attach to be killed.

Question: In some parts of the country, heartworm is a terrible problem. Is heartworm appearing in the Northwest?

Answer: Heartworms have been found in dogs in all 50 states; however, heartworms are not yet considered to be an endemic problem in Washington.

Because the disease is spread to dogs, and some cats, by mosquitoes, and the "right" mosquitoes seem to be increasing in variety, it is possible that heartworm will become a real threat here some day.

Washington and northern Oregon now are not considered areas of concern.
A good resource for checking parasite prevalence by state is: http://www.petsandparasites.org/parasite-prevalence-maps

Question: What kinds of precautions should pet owners take to prevent ticks and heartworms?

Answer: The best approach is prevention. Discuss the prevention options with your pet's veterinarian, who will make sure your pet is on the right medication(s) to fit your pet's particular needs.

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Question: What precautions should I take if I am traveling with my pet out of the area?

Answer: Because of the varied risks of exposure, pets traveling with their owners in general should be on parasite prevention for internal and external parasites, which in most cases will incidentally protect from heartworms. You can always discuss your travel plans and concerns with your pet's veterinarian to be sure you are properly prepared.

Jeffrey F. Duke, DVM, is head of Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital's small-animal department in Snohomish. He grew up in Oregon and received his veterinary degree from Oregon State University in 1984. He joined Pilchuck the same year as a large-animal veterinarian, but by 1987 shifted to small animals. His areas of special interest are surgery, both soft tissue and orthopedic, and small-animal reproduction.