Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to Your Questions About Parasites to Keep You and Your Pets Healthy
Q: I have several dogs and cats I want to give them the best of care but the cost of products to control fleas and ticks as well as internal parasites and heartworms is more than my budget will cover. Are there products that are OK to use in both dogs and cats?
A: Cats and dogs are very different in their ability to handle chemicals. In fact some chemicals commonly used in dogs are potentially very dangerous in cats. Never use dog product in cats,
Q: Can I buy the larger sizes of products and divide them among my pets?
A: Dividing doses is not recommended.
While this may seem logical in some cases the reality is these products are somewhat dose sensitive based on the weight of the patient.
Some manufacturers have stated that the distribution of chemical through their product may not be uniform and so one pet might receive too much and another not enough.
Q: We took home a new puppy recently and when we took her to the vet a few weeks later we found she had whipworms and hookworms. The puppy had pooped in several areas of the yard and I understand the eggs of these worms are probably in the dirt. Is there any way I can kill these worm eggs?
A: Unfortunately some worm eggs are pretty resistant to environmental changes and can persist for long periods in the soil. There are some precautions that can be taken in small areas to destroy the eggs. Unfortunately they damage or destroy the lawn and landscaping in the immediate area.
In some cases dilute chlorine bleach may be effective but this is most effective in concrete covered areas and much less so in soil. Propane fueled torches will work but have obvious risks of burns and unintended damage.
In small areas, the top few inches of soil can be removed and taken to a landfill.
In extreme cases it may be necessary to cover the area with concrete or blacktop to prevent exposure and re-infection.
To best protect the puppy be sure to administer monthly parasite control products as recommended by your veterinarian.
Q: I have a lot of feral cats in my neighborhood and some use my yard and flower beds as a toilet. Do I need to worry? What can I do to safely clean up these areas without harming my garden?
A: In addition to the risk of roundworms and hookworms infesting your garden cats present the additional potential for transmission of Toxoplasmosis. This protozoan infection is of particular concern to pregnant women.
Since treating feral cats is impractical it is important to prevent them from soiling your garden by using motion sensitive sprinklers or repellants It is also important to remove fecal material daily if possible and dispose of it in a landfill.
The best step you can take to protect yourself is to wear gloves while gardening and to wash your hands well after working in the yard.
Q: My family is extremely “green” and we mulch everything. We have been adding dog and cat droppings to the mulching but I understand this may not be a good idea. What are the dangers?
A: Mulching is a very common way of helping protect our environment but unfortunately the methods and results are somewhat inconsistent. Worm eggs passed in your pets’ stools require high temperatures to kill the eggs and these temperatures may be difficult to achieve in home mulch piles.
The risk is that you could inadvertently be spreading worm eggs around your garden and potentially contaminating vegetables.
While many sewage treatment plants are effective at killing these eggs not all are. The best and safest way to dispose of dog and cat stools is in the landfill with your garbage.
Q: We live in the country in Southern California and have a lot of wildlife in our area. What do we need to do worry about in terms of our pets getting parasites from these animals?
A: Wildlife are indeed a possible health hazard to your pets and your family. Intestinal parasites can be transmitted to pets by eating the eggs or consuming small rodents. Racoons carry a very serious parasite called Balysascaris which can infect dogs but of far greater danger they can infect people with potentially deadly results.
Additionally wildlife are frequent hosts to fleas and ticks which can contaminate the environment and infect your pets.
Q: We have possums and raccoons in our yard. Are they any danger to our pets or our grandchildren?
A: The biggest danger is that the raccoons will deposit their feces in an area where children might inadvertently be exposed.
In some areas of the country raccoons are a primary source of rabies.
Both Possums and Raccoons are intriguing to young children. It is important to not encourage them to make your yard their home and to prevent children from coming in contact with them or their droppings.
Q: We just adopted a 5 month old puppy and we want to be sure he stays in good health. We had him tested for worms and heartworms and both were negative. If we start him on the drugs our vet suggested can we be sure he will not get heartworms or intestinal worms?
A: The most important step you can take to protect your puppy from parasites is to use a monthly product to control internal parasites and an oral or injectable product to prevent heartworms. These products should be used year round.
Heartworms present a bit of a problem in that your puppy may have been exposed to heartworms and they just haven’t matured to a stage they are detectable. The best precaution is to have your puppy retested 6 months after the last test. Regardless…stay on the preventive your veterinarian recommends all year round.
Q: I just found out I am pregnant and my doctor said I must get rid of my indoor cats. I am very attached to my cats but the health of my baby comes first. What should I do?
A: First don’t get rid of your cat! Your doctor is concerned about the spread of Toxoplasmosis from your cat. In expectant mothers this normally minor disease can have devastating results in the developing fetus.
The good news is it is acquired by cats primarily by eating mice and birds. Furthermore it is only transmissible from cats for a very short time in their life.
The risk of toxoplasmosis from cats is an outdated concern but is easily avoided by having someone else in the family empty the litter box daily.
The risk of Toxoplasmis is most significant from eating unwashed vegetables and undercooked meat. Both should be avoided during pregnancy.
Q: I live in a high-rise in downtown Chicago. I have 2 cats that never go outdoors. Do I need to worry about worms?
A: Because your pets are not outdoors the likelihood of exposure is far less than for an outdoor cat. Some common pests such as cockroaches can transmit some parasites and it is not out of the question that mosquitoes can find their way into your building. While risks are low only you can determine if they are acceptable.
At very least have a stool sample checked once yearly on both cats so if there is infection it can be addressed.
Q: I am very concerned about chemicals around my family. Are there natural organic products that I can use to control fleas and ticks?
A: While there are some natural products that have a slight repellent activity against fleas none have been shown to be very effective over the long haul. Eucalyptus oil, cedar chips and other aromatic oils may act as repellents but to have any effect at all they must be used very frequently and must be very fresh. This makes them a bit unpleasant to be around.
Diatomaceous earth and Borax powder are very good drying agents and may be helpful in controlling fleas in the yard or even in the carpet. They can be a little messy but do help.
Q: My dog recently tested positive for Lyme disease. Does that mean I can catch it from my dog?
A: No. People do not get Lyme disease directly from their pets. The disease is caused by a bacteria carried by a tick. The infection occurs when an infected tick bites a dog (or person). There are no documented cases of a dog infected with Lyme disease transmitting the disease to a person. If a person and their dog test positive for Lyme disease it is likely due to the fact that both are exposed to infected ticks in the environment and not because the dog passed the infection to the person.
Q: Why should I control parasites for my pet year-round?
A: Due to the large number of internal and external parasites and the high risk of pet infection, controlling parasites year-round is the most reliable way to ensure the highest level of health for your pet and well-being of your family. Year-round prevention is the most effective way to control cat and dog parasites and the diseases they can carry.
Q: Why can’t I treat my pet for parasites just during the summer months?
A: Parasites can infect your pet any time of year. While external parasites, such as fleas and ticks, may be less of a problem during certain times of the year, depending on where you live, internal parasites (worms) can be present year-round. That’s why it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to implement a year-round parasite control program.
Q: Do fleas on my pet present a health risk to my family?
A: Yes. Fleas can carry and transmit several potential illnesses to humans, including rickettsiosis (infection with Rickettsia) and bartonellosis (infection with Bartonella). Also, fleas serve as an intermediate host for tapeworms, which can infect both your pet and humans.
Q: What human-health problems are associated with ticks?
A: Ticks transmit a large number of diseases in North America. These diseases include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, relapsing fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and tick paralysis. It is important for the health of your pet, as well as the safety of your family, to include ticks in your pet’s year-round parasite control program.
Q: What kind of internal parasites or worms can infect my cat or dog?
A: There are a number of intestinal worms that can infect dogs and cats, and they vary according to the species. In general, these include tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms, and they are very prolific. In fact, one worm can produce more than 100,000 eggs per day, which are then passed in the pet’s feces and spread throughout the area the pet roams. Once in the environment, these eggs can remain infective and present a health risk for your pet and to humans for years.
Q: How does my dog or cat get intestinal worms (tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, whipworms)?
A: Dogs and cats are most commonly infected when they ingest (eat) intestinal worm eggs that have been passed through the feces of an infected dog or cat. Tapeworms can be transmitted to pets that ingest fleas or other intermediate hosts, such as small rodents, that carry tapeworm larvae. Some worm species can be transmitted to puppies and kittens through the mother’s placenta and milk.
Q: How can my veterinarian determine if my pet has intestinal parasites (worms)?
A: Most intestinal parasites can be diagnosed through a physical examination and the microscopic analysis of your pet’s feces. Your veterinarian can conduct the examination and fecal tests to determine if your pet has worms and then prescribe the appropriate treatment or preventive program.
Q: If my dog or cat has intestinal worms, how do these parasites infect humans?
A: Roundworms are the most common intestinal parasite of pets and the most likely to be transmitted to humans. Humans can accidentally ingest infective worm eggs that have been passed through the pet’s feces and left in the environment. The eggs hatch in the human’s intestinal tract, and the immature worms travel to various tissues in the body, including the eyes and brain, causing serious infections.
Q: Are heartworms a parasite I should be concerned about for my pet?
A: Yes. Heartworms can be a very serious problem for both dogs and cats, especially those in mosquito-infested areas, as mosquitoes are a vector and intermediate host for the pest. Heartworms can kill or seriously debilitate pets that are infected with them. That’s because heartworms live in the bloodstream, lungs, and heart of infected pets. Your veterinarian can do a blood test to determine if your pet has heartworm disease. A year-round preventive program is most effective to keep pets free of heartworms.
Q: Can heartwoms that infect my dog or cat also infect humans?
A: Rarely will heartworms infect humans as humans are an aberrant host. However, human cases of heartworm infection have occurred, causing cysts in lungs or eyes.
Q: How can I reduce the risk of parasites infecting my family?
A: You can reduce the risk of parasitic infection by eliminating parasites from pets; restricting access to contaminated areas, such as sandboxes, pet “walk areas,” and other high-traffic areas, and practicing good personal hygiene. Disposing of pet feces on a regular basis can help remove potentially infective worm eggs before they become distributed in the environment and are picked up or ingested by pets or humans.
Q: I am pregnant and my doctor told me to get rid of my cat because it might have toxoplasmosis. What is toxoplasmosis and do I have to get rid of my cat?
A: Toxoplasma is a protozoal parasite that causes toxoplasmosis and is commonly found in raw or undercooked lamb or beef. It can harm a developing fetus. Cats can serve as an end-stage host for the parasite when they eat small rodents that carry the protozoa and then pass the infective oocysts of the parasite in their feces, thereby exposing pregnant women to possible infection. If you are pregnant, you do not need to get rid of your cat. Avoiding raw or undercooked meat, keeping your cat from hunting, and having someone else change the cat’s litter box daily will eliminate the risk of possible infection.
Q: My dog has been diagnosed with Lyme disease. How did he contract it, and can I catch the disease from him?
A: Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia organism that is carried by the tiny deer tick, which is very common in many parts of the country. If you or your dog is bitten by a tick carrying this organism, you or your dog can contract Lyme disease. However, your dog cannot give the disease directly to you if it is infected. Your veterinarian can prescribe a program to treat the disease if it develops.
Q: My dog runs with another dog that is being treated for mange. What is it and should I be concerned?
A: There are several different types of mange, with the two most common types being sarcoptic mange or scabies and demodectic mange. Both are caused by tiny parasitic mites that burrow into the skin, which results in skin irritation, hair loss, and crusting or scabs forming.
Sarcoptic mange is nonseasonal and can infect dogs of any age or breed. Demodectic mange is a complex issue that involves a large number of mites (Demodex canis) in the hair follicles. The infestation can be either localized to the head or other part of the dog or generalized to a larger area. Sarcoptic mange is easily spread from dog to dog by direct contact; therefore, all dogs and other pets should be treated. Humans can also be infested with this parasite and should take precautions as well. Current data indicate that demodectic mange is not contagious.
Q: My cat’s ears are inflamed and it shakes its head frequently and scratches its ears. Does it have ear mites?
A: Quite possibly, but your veterinarian can provide a definite diagnosis. Ear mites are common in cats and are easily passed between animals, so it is important to treat all exposed pets. Ear mites can cause severe discomfort for the pet and lead to secondary ear infections if not promptly treated.