The most common roundworm is Toxocara. The larvae of these worms are often passed across the placenta from mother before birth or via the milk when suckling; they migrate around the body until they become adult worms in the intestines. Once these worms have reached maturity, they start producing large numbers of eggs. Animals re-infect themselves by ingesting these eggs during grooming. The worms can cause poor growth and diarrhoea. Humans can be at risk from these worms too, especially children who may accidentally ingest the eggs after handling pets or playing in contaminated gardens or play areas. The Toxocara larvae can, on rare occasions, cause organ damage, particularly to the eye, resulting in impaired vision. This disease is called Toxocariasis.
These are flat segmented worms which need an intermediate host - generally a flea or a rodent - to complete their lifecycle. They attach themselves to the small intestine and grow up to 5 metres long. They appear as flat, ribbon shaped pieces of pale segments the size of a grain of rice in the faeces. Pets can become infected whilst grooming, by ingesting fleas, which are carrying tapeworm larvae, or in the case of cats by catching infected prey such as mice. These larvae soon turn into adult worms.
The larvae of these worms are carried by slugs and snails and can be accidentally ingested by dogs whilst licking or eating grass. The disease appears to be most common in young dogs and is very often fatal. Signs vary from coughing and breathing problems, to bleeding and neurological problems. This is rarely seen in cats.
Fleas are the primary cause of skin problems in animals. Some pets suffer from an allergic reaction to the flea saliva and need only a single bite from a flea to trigger a severe reaction. Fleas can also bite people, although they can’t live on us. If there are large numbers you may spot one or two but they are designed to run rapidly through the hair, so it may be easier to look for flea dirt. This is black gritty material, which, if placed on a damp tissue will turn reddy brown – as it is made from digested blood. Each adult female flea will take a blood meal, and lay thousands of eggs that are shed into carpets, laminate floors and furnishings. These eggs hatch into larvae which feed on dead skin flakes and flea faeces. In the pupal stage they can lie dormant for up to a year until the correct conditions of warmth, humidity, and vibration occur for them to hatch into adult fleas. This dormant phase can result in a severe flea epidemic rapidly developing.
Only adult fleas, which make up less than 5% of the total flea population, live on our pets. Consequently, correct environmental treatment is an essential part of successful flea control. Recent research shows 1 in 4 cats has fleas and 1 in 7 dogs has fleas – but we don’t necessarily see them.
Ticks are not only a nuisance and an irritation to your pet but they can also, in some instances, transmit diseases. Ticks are generally found in grassland, scrubs, shrubs and low hanging branches waiting for animals to brush against them so they can climb on board. The tick then burrows its head into the skin to suck a blood meal and become engorged. At this point they look like silvery grey or brown bubbles or wart like lesions. The commonest problem associated with ticks is the sores and secondary infections at the site of attachment. Please contact the surgery if you think your pet may have a tick as they should not be pulled off. If you pull them off, it may leave the head behind and this process can increase the risk of disease transmission from the tick.
These mites are found in the ear canal and, occasionally, adjacent skin of the head. The mites cause irritation of the lining of the ear canal which then becomes full of a crusty black discharge. It can cause head shaking, scratching of the ears and secondary infections.
This is caused by Sarcoptic mites which live in the top layers of the skin. They cause intense itching leading to excessive scratching, causing hair loss and skin damage. Transmission is usually through direct contact with infected dogs and foxes. The mite has the potential to cause mild disease in humans. Unfortunately, there is no one treatment for prevention and control of all of the above parasites; however discussion with your vet will help us help you decide the best course of action.