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Heartworms and hookworms and ticks … oh my!

May 11, 2015

All these creepy crawlies you can see, others that you think you can feel, still more that you’re told you can’t see but are microscopic. How scared and worried should you be for your pet?  We don’t think you need to panic, but you should definitely protect your pet.  And safe, effective protection is available.

So let’s first discuss heartworms and heartworm prevention.  Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes – an infected mosquito’s bite can infect your unprotected pet with heartworms.  Here’s a visual of how your dog or can be infected:

Heartworm lifecycle-color-petowners

Heartworm preventives don’t stop your pet from becoming infected; they work by killing the heartworm larvae and stopping the heartworms from growing.  The majority of pet owners prefer a monthly oral heartworm preventive.  At West Kendall Animal Hospital, Dr. Davidson recommends Heartgard Plus, Sentinel, or Trifexis for dogs.  For dog owners that prefer the convenience of a 6-month injection, ProHeart is also becoming popular.  While some of our cat owners want to give an oral preventive like Heartgard, many are using the monthly topical, Revolution.

Intestinal parasites are also a concern for pet owners who want to keep their pets healthy.  At West Kendall Animal Hospital, Dr. Davidson follows the recommendations of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and checks pets’ stools for intestinal parasites every six months.  Most of these parasites are only seen microscopically.  Roundworms are the most common intestinal parasite in dogs, but in Florida, hookworms are most common.  Statewide, hookworms are found in approximately 2% of all dogs tested; at our hospital, we find 10-15% of tested dogs are positive for hookworms.  It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to treat for most intestinal parasites but it’s better to prevent an infection.  Conveniently, the monthly heartworm preventives that Dr. Davidson prescribes for dogs at West Kendall Animal Hospital also prevent intestinal parasites – Heartgard for hookworms, and Sentinel and Trifexis for hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms.  For cats, Revolution also protects against the three major species of intestinal parasites.

Tapeworms are intestinal parasites that you can see without a microscope, occasionally found in your pet’s stool.  (If you want to see a slightly disgusting but excellent video of live tapeworms in a pet’s stool, follow this link to our Facebook page, where one of our pet owners made this video: .)  Tapeworms (Dipylidium caninum) infect your dog or cat when they swallow an infected flea.  Pieces of tapeworms are often described as looking like grains of rice, and may be found in your dog or cat’s feces, on or around their anus, or in their bedding.  Because tapeworms are only shed intermittently, a microscopic analysis of their stool will not always show a tapeworm infection.  While oral treatment for tapeworms is available, prevention is usually better.  USDA-approved prescription flea control is safe for your pets and effective against fleas.  Dr. Davidson prescribes the monthly oral NexGard, or – for pet owners that prefer an all-in-one tablet, Sentinel and Trifexis are also effective.  For dog owners that like to use a topical product for fleas, he prescribes Parastar Plus.  For cats, topically-applied Revolution is excellent; so is oral Comfortis.

Ticks are particularly despised by pet owners, perhaps because they’re so ugly and alien-looking.  Ticks also transmit diseases including the well-known Lyme disease, which is not a particular threat in South Florida because of the low presence of the deer tick.  Canine Ehrlichiosis, however, is common in our area and is considered to be one of the most dangerous tick-borne disease organisms.  Symptoms of Canine Ehrlichiosis may not appear for months after a dog is infected and can include fever, loss of appetite, depression, weight loss, runny eyes and nose, nose bleeds and swollen limbs.  The Companion Animal Parasite Council predicts that cases of Ehrlichia will continue to increase in 2015, especially throughout the South and Southeast.  The good news is that several of the safe, effective products that are prescribed for flea control also work on ticks, including NexGard and Parastar Plus for dogs and Revolution for cats.

So how do you begin protecting your dog or cat?  First, if your pet hasn’t had a physical exam in the last 6-12 months, call to schedule one immediately.  If your pet hasn’t been checked for intestinal parasites in six months or longer, make sure that’s included in your pet’s complete preventive care check-up.  Dogs that have never been on a heartworm preventive or dogs over 1 year old that have not had a heartworm check in the last twelve months should be tested for heartworms with a simple blood test called an occult heartworm test.  Puppies under 8 or 9 months old can generally begin heartworm prevention without a blood test.  Cats may be tested for heartworms (at West Kendall Animal Hospital, it’s part of our test for Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), but – unlike dogs – they’re not required to be tested before Dr. Davidson prescribes a heartworm preventive.  For flea and ticks control and prevention, our knowledgeable staff can help you select the prescription product that’s right for you and your pet.

For more information about pets and parasites, we’d suggest, the website of the Companion Animal Council.  For information about heartworms, go to the American Heartworm Society’s webiste,

It may be scary to think about the creep crawlies that can infect your pet, but know that there’s lots that you and your veterinarian can do to help.


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