Providing year-round parasite prevention medication is the best way to protect your pet from dangerous infections. Keeping them parasite free also can safeguard your family since some parasitic diseases are zoonotic, meaning they can infect pets and people. Our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) accredited team at Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital wants to help by providing information about some common parasitic pet diseases. 

Hookworms in pets

Hookworms, including the species Ancylostoma caninum, Ancylostoma braziliense, and Uncinaria stenocephala, parasitize pets’ gastrointestinal tracts. The worms get their name from their hook-like mouth parts, which they use to attach to the intestinal wall so they can ingest blood. Details you should know about hookworms include:

  • Life cycle — Microscopic hookworm eggs are passed in the feces. When the larvae hatch, they contaminate the environment and can survive for weeks or months before infecting their next victim. Once the larvae enters another pet, they migrate through the body until they reach the intestine where they mature, mate, and produce offspring, perpetuating the cycle.
  • Transmission — Hookworms can be transmitted by oral ingestion, direct skin contact, in utero, and through the mother’s milk to her offspring.
  • Signs — Signs include pale gums, lethargy, weight loss, bloody diarrhea, and poor growth.
  • Diagnosis — Hookworms can be detected with a routine fecal check.
  • Treatment — Dewormers to treat hookworms only kill the adults, and pets typically need at least two treatment rounds to get all the parasites. Severely anemic pets also may require a blood transfusion.
  • Zoonoses — Humans are most commonly infected by walking barefoot in a contaminated area, but they also can be infected by ingesting hookworm larvae. Symptoms include tiredness, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, weight loss, and diarrhea.

Giardiasis in pets

Giardiasis is an intestinal infection caused by the microscopic protozoan parasite Giardia duodenalis. The parasites are found worldwide and are commonly isolated in public water supplies, swimming pools, whirlpool spas, and wells. Details you should know about Giardia include:

  • Life cycle Giardia cysts can cause infection when swallowed, and the parasites migrate to the small intestine where they release trophozoites, which absorb nutrients from their host. The trophozoites are transformed back into cyst form in the pet’s colon and are passed in the feces.
  • Transmission — Giardiasis is transmitted by ingesting cysts from contaminated water, food, surfaces, or objects.
  • Signs — The damage done to the intestinal wall can result in acute, foul-smelling diarrhea. Other signs include vomiting, lethargy, and weight loss.
  • Diagnosis Giardia cysts are extremely tiny, and a routine fecal test may fail to detect them. A special zinc sulfate flotation solution is necessary to identify the parasites.
  • Treatment — Giardiasis treatment typically involves an anti-parasitic medication in conjunction with an antibiotic. Treatment is usually needed for three to 10 days, and supportive treatment may be necessary in severe cases.
  • Zoonoses — Giardiasis is one of the most common waterborne diseases in humans in the United States. Signs include watery diarrhea, fatigue, stomach cramps, bloating, nausea, and weight loss.

Ehrlichiosis in pets

Ehrlichiosis is a tick-borne infectious disease caused by multiple bacterial species of the genus Ehrlichia. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), the projected risk for Ehrlichia spp. in 2022 is expected to be high throughout the Southwest, and south central and coastal Atlantic states. Details you should know about Ehrlichiosis include:

  • Transmission — Ticks, including the brown dog tick, lone star tick, and American dog tick are the main vectors for Ehrlichiosis. The tick must be attached for at least 24 hours to transmit the disease.
  • Signs — The disease typically occurs in three stages:
  • Acute — Signs include fever, swollen lymph nodes, respiratory distress, weight loss, and spontaneous bleeding.
  • Subclinical — No signs are seen during this stage.
  • Chronic — Signs include anemia, bleeding episodes, eye problems, neurological problems, and swollen limbs. 
  • Diagnosis — Specialized blood tests are needed to test for Ehrlichiosis. Check out our previous blog post for more information about testing for tick-related infections.  
  • Treatment — A particular antibiotic class is typically effective to treat Ehrlichiosis, and supportive therapy also may be necessary depending on the pet’s condition.
  • Zoonoses — People can’t catch Ehrlichiosis from their pet, but if your pet is exposed to an infected tick, you also may be exposed. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and upset stomach.

Heartworms in pets

Heartworms can cause significant damage to a pet’s heart and lungs, and risk has been increasing for pets in central and southern Florida since 2021. Details you should know about heartworms include:

  • Life cycle — Baby heartworms, called microfilariae, circulate in the bloodstream of dogs and wild canids. Mosquitoes ingest the parasites when they bite, and the parasites develop to an infective stage inside the insect. They then can be deposited on another pet’s skin when the mosquito takes their next blood meal and infect the pet. See this previous blog post for further information about heartworm disease in pets.
  • Transmission — Mosquitoes transmit heartworms.
  • Signs — Heartworms affect pets in different ways.
  • Dogs — Many dogs don’t exhibit signs in the early stages, but if present, signs include lethargy, a soft cough, exercise intolerance, and weight loss. If a dog has a heavy worm load, they can collapse or die suddenly.
  • Cats — In cats, heartworms cause heartworm-associated respiratory disease (HARD). Signs include wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
  • Diagnosis — Antigen and antibody tests can detect heartworms, and X-rays or ultrasound imaging also may be needed to diagnose the condition.
  • Treatment — Treatment in dogs involves administering medications to kill the parasites at every life stage, which require several months. No approved medications are available to treat heartworm disease in cats, and management focuses on supportive care. Heartworm disease is much easier to prevent than treat—see our blog post for further information about heartworm prevention in dogs. 
  • Zoonoses — Heartworms don’t pose a threat to humans, but rare cases have been reported. 

Providing year-round parasite prevention medication can protect your pet from problematic parasitic diseases and safeguard you and your family. If your pet needs a fecal check or heartworm test, contact our Fear Free team at Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment.