There are many parasites that prey on our pets. Some of them cause illness and a few of them cause disease in humans. Here is a quick rundown of the bugs you should know about.
Alberta has ticks. BC, eastern Canada, and much of the USA have even more ticks. Most of them are just a creepy nuisance, but a few of them can cause severe illness in dogs and humans.
The most infamous tick-borne disease is Lyme disease. It is a bacteria carried by the Ixodes tick and is transmitted to dogs and humans when the tick attaches to the skin for more than 24 hours. Most of the time the infection is stopped by the immune system and no symptoms are seen. Occasionally, mild flu-like symptoms and a bull’s-eye rash are seen. In rare cases, a severe disease affects many body systems and is very difficult to treat. In Alberta in 2016, 1930 ticks were submitted for testing. 17% were Ixodes ticks (224 ticks), and of these 18% were positive for the Lyme disease bacteria (40 ticks). So, it is still very unlikely that you or your dog will get Lyme disease in Alberta, but taking precautions is a very good idea.
Other tick-borne diseases include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tick Paralysis, Erlichiosis and Anaplasmosis. They are very uncommon in this area, but we see occasional cases.
Prevention is the best approach. We have all been told to tuck pants into socks, wear tight cuffs and collars, and put on a hat. Dogs can’t do this, so giving preventive medication is a good idea. There are several flavored chews and topical ointments that will prevent ticks from attaching or kill them after they have attached. Ask your veterinarian which one is best for your pet. We recommend treating from early April until the end of October. It is also a good idea to check your pet all over after walking in shrubby, grassy, or wooded areas. That way, your pet won’t bring ticks into the home with them.
In this area, we see internal parasites like roundworm, tapeworm, and hookworm. There are a few that can be transmitted from pets to humans. It is rare, but can cause serious diseases including blindness. We recommend that you have a fecal sample checked by your veterinarian every year for all outdoors pets. Puppies and kittens should be tested and/or treated for worms when they are first adopted. Children are most susceptible, so families should make sure to check their pets regularly.
The good news is that Alberta mosquitos are not yet carrying heartworm disease. If you are travelling outside Alberta, be sure to check with your veterinarian before you go. There are preventive medications available to make sure that your pet doesn’t pick up this potentially fatal disease.
The giardia parasite causes “beaver fever”, a gastrointestinal disease characterized by diarrhea, poor appetite, gas, and occasionally vomiting. Dogs and humans pick it up from drinking water contaminated by feces. Our local streams, lakes, and rivers can carry the parasite. If your dog gets diarrhea for more than a day or two, your veterinarian will run a giardia fecal test. If positive, treatment with a powder called Panacur is safe and effective.
Dog lice do not affect humans! They will make your dog itch. Lice is transmitted from dog to dog through contact, often at an off-leash park. For some reason, we see it more often in the winter. It is easily treated with shampoos and medications.
Stay safe and bug free!