Some of the most common conditions we deal with in our patients in the state of Florida are parasitic infestations. The climate that we all enjoy in our great state also presents the ideal conditions for a variety of parasitic organisms that prey on our pets. Among the most common parasites in pets are heartworms, intestinal parasites, and fleas.
Heartworms (Dirofilaria immitis) are a deadly worm that is transmitted by Florida’s unofficial state bird, the mosquito. The microscopic larvae carried by mosquitoes are injected into dogs and cats during a bite and then begin a several month process of development into the adult form. Adult heartworms can grow to over 12 inches long, and live within the arteries within the lungs and, in severe cases, within portions of the heart itself. Heartworm disease involves severe damage to the lungs and heart and causes a variety of consequences including pulmonary emboli (clots that cutoff blood flow to the lungs), heart failure, pulmonary hypertension (elevated blood pressure of the lung vessels), multiple organ system failure, and even death. Treatment of the disease is a complex and expensive series of medications to weaken and then kill the worms, so our primary method of stopping heartworm disease is regular preventive medications and periodic testing to detect the disease sooner, rather than later. A heartworm test involves a small blood sample to evaluate for adult and/or larval heartworms (microfilaria). We follow the recommendations of the American Heartworm Society regarding regular heartworm testing.
Intestinal parasites are also extremely common in Florida when compared to other areas of the country. The major intestinal parasites in Florida are hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms. These parasites are transmitted by fecal to oral contamination from infested dogs. While monthly heartworm preventatives are excellent at controlling most of these parasites, some preventatives don’t protect from all of them, and breakthrough cases are encountered as well. As such, we recommend semi-annual fecal examinations to evaluate for passage of eggs in the stool, and will administer appropriate deworming medications as necessary. In addition to the common signs of intestinal parasites in dogs (diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, loss of blood, lethargy), many intestinal parasites carried by our pets can also infect humans, and can even cause symptoms as serious as permanent blindness. If we detect a parasitic disease in your pet, we will discuss any zoonotic risk (risk to humans) which you should then discuss further with your family physician.
Nobody likes to think of parasitic diseases infesting our pets for their own sake or ours. Thankfully, with no more than a small blood sample and collection of a stool sample for inexpensive and non-invasive testing on a regular basis combined with monthly preventative medications, we can prevent and detect these parasites and keep your loved pets and families safe and healthy.
Related article: Heartworm Prevention Options for Tampa, FL Pet Owners