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Health ConditionsHeartwormParasites

Heartworms, Intestinal Parasites, and Your Pet

By April 24, 2023 No Comments

Let’s talk about worms. They aren’t a topic most people want to even think about, much less discuss. But as a pet owner, you want to protect your pet (and your entire family) from these troublesome and potentially dangerous creatures.


Although the number of heartworm disease cases is relatively low in Ontario (about 1 in 200 dogs testing positive each year), the rate of positive cases in certain areas of southwestern Ontario (between Sarnia and Hamilton) is much higher than the provincial average (1 in 10-20 unprotected dogs test positive).


Did you know your pet can get heartworms from just a single mosquito bite!


What Is heartworm disease?

A heartworm infection starts when a mosquito—carrying heartworm larvae (immature heartworms) —bites a dog or cat. Over the next few months, the tiny worms make their way to the heart and lungs, mature into adult heartworms,  and cause inflammation and scarring of these organs and associated blood vessels.


And don’t be misled: indoor pets are not safe from heartworm infection. Anywhere a mosquito can go, so can heartworm disease


How Is heartworm disease prevented?

We can keep immature heartworm from developing into adults and harming your pet by regularly giving them a heartworm disease preventive. When preventive heartworm medicine is administered shortly after heartworm infection, it kills the immature worms and prevents them from maturing into organ-damaging adults.


What are signs of heartworm disease?

Heartworm disease can cause lasting health problems in pets and can be fatal. Dogs may have no signs of the disease for years, then develop signs of heart failure such as coughing, rapid breathing, and/or fatigue. Signs may appear more rapidly in cats and often resemble asthma with coughing, rapid breathing, lethargy and weight loss; some infected cats may even die suddenly without warning.


What does heartworm treatment involve?

Heartworm treatment for dogs can be expensive and potentially risky to a pet’s health. As the heartworms are killed off, they can cause blockages in the blood vessels. Strict exercise restriction is needed during treatment, and this may be required for several months. No approved drug therapy exists for cats or ferrets with heartworm disease.


Heartworm disease is far easier to prevent than to treat.


Intestinal worms

Roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms can pose a year-round threat to dogs, cats and their owners in London and surrounding areas.


What are signs of intestinal worms in pets?

Intestinal parasites can cause diarrhea, vomiting, unexplained weight loss, and changes in appetite, especially in young pets and those with large numbers of worms. Puppies and kittens with intestinal worms may fail to grow properly or appear potbellied. Pets with hookworms can also end up with anemia, a potentially life-threatening condition in which the number of circulating red blood cells drop below a healthy range). However, many adult cats and dogs with intestinal parasite infections don’t show signs of illness.


Why are fox tapeworms such a big deal?

Quite small compared to other tapeworms, the Fox tapeworm (Echinococcus multilocularis) doesn’t get longer than one centimetre (as compared to other tapeworms that infect pets which can grow up to 70 centimetres in length). Fox tapeworm infects the intestinal tract of wild canids, like foxes and coyotes, but can infect domestic dogs (and occasionally cats) as well.


Pets that eat rodents are at risk for Fox tapeworm infection; however, unlike other tapeworms, they don’t typically cause symptoms in dogs or cats. The real concern is the tapeworm eggs that are expelled in the feces of infected wild animals or pets. When people accidentally ingest these eggs (via contaminated soil or feces) they can develop an infection called alveolar echinococcosis or AE. This infection causes tumour-like cysts to form in the liver and lungs. Dogs can get AE too, but canine infection is rare.


Fortunately, AE is currently rare in people as well. However, it can cause severe disease, making tapeworm prevention in pets essential.


Hunters and young children are at particularly high risk for exposure to Fox tapeworm eggs. However, considering that coyotes and foxes can be found in London and the surrounding areas, more people—of all demographics—are at risk of being infected. Of significant note, most people won’t show any signs of AE infection for 5 to 15 years after being infected. At that point, the cysts are extremely tough to treat, requiring surgery and possibly chemotherapy. AE can be fatal. That’s why preventing Fox tapeworm infections in household dogs and cats is essential.


What are signs of intestinal worms in people?

Roundworms and hookworms can also infect people, potentially causing respiratory issues, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, skin conditions, and vision loss.


Let’s keep these parasites at bay!

Regular parasite prevention is an important part of keeping your pet healthy and preventing disease in humans as well. That’s why we recommend annual heartworm blood testing for dogs that also screens for three tick-borne diseases, as well as annual intestinal parasite fecal testing for dogs and cats. We also recommend year-round parasite prevention for dogs and cats. Talk to us about what prevention is best for your pet.


Contact us today to make sure your pet is up-to-date on necessary parasite control medication or to request a refill. Please give us at least 24 hours for medication refills.


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