Cats and dogs are some of the UK's most popular pets, with millions keeping owners company in homes across the country. But whether your household is home to a cat or a dog, your pet will rely on you to keep them healthy – which is why protection against parasites and disease is essential.
We've rounded up some common dog parasites and cat parasites, as well as tips for worming and getting rid of fleas, so you can give your pet the best protection possible.
Both cats and dogs can fall prey to parasites – and owners should look out for not one, but two types: those that live inside your pet (endoparasites), and those that live outside (ectoparasites). In your companion's coat, you may see signs of fleas and lice, while ticks tag on to their skin, and ear mites feed on wax in the ear canal. Cheyletiella – also known as 'walking dandruff' – may be easier to spot, as the mite can be seen carrying skin scales that look like a bad bout of dandruff. While all of these mites commonly affect both dogs and cats, dog owners should also look out for scabies (or 'sarcoptes') and, most often in puppies, demodex. Meanwhile, roundworm, lungworm, hookworm, tapeworm and whipworm can be found lurking inside your beloved pet. Roundworm and tapeworm are the most common culprits, and are easy to spot in your pet's faeces or vomit. (Who said parasites were pleasant?)
Some parasites are just plain annoying for your pet. Others will cause your furry friend genuine grief. Fleas, for example, will treat your cat or dog like a live-in hotel. These tiny, fast-moving parasites are not only incredibly itchy, but can also cause hair loss and skin infections, carry tapeworm eggs and even bite human family members. Then there are the parasites that could place your cat or dog's health in real danger, such as lungworm. Picked up through slugs and snails, these mites set up home in the heart and major blood vessels, and can cause breathing problems, blood clotting, coughing and, if left untreated, death. Worst of all, your pet doesn't even need to eat the slimy creatures to become infected; licking a toy or plant pot that a slug or snail has crawled over can be enough. Another potentially deadly parasite is heartworm. This parasite is introduced via a mosquito bite, and can be passed from dog to dog, where it lives in the heart of the animal. Symptoms don't show immediately – they can take months or even years – but include coughing, lethargy, weight loss, weakness and eventually heart failure. For these reasons, getting rid of fleas, and worming cats and dogs is essential for their wellbeing.
It's said that 'prevention is better than cure' and the saying certainly applies to pets and parasites. The good news is it's easy to protect your cat or dog with regular, vet-approved treatments. Vets recommend worming cats and dogs every three months, which can be as simple as feeding your pet a tablet (with a treat will help). Pets with fleas may need further treatment, as fleas carry tapeworm eggs. Getting rid of fleas can be done with a simple on-the-spot treatment from your vet, some of which can zap ticks and scabies in the process. In both cases, owners are advised to treat their entire home and any other pets to nip menacing mites in the bud.
As well as worming and getting rid of fleas, preventative healthcare includes routine vaccinations. When feeding, puppies and kittens are instantly protected against infection by their mother's milk – but it doesn't last for long. After a number of weeks (nine to 12 for cats, eight to 10 for dogs), your little bundles of fur will need a helping hand with core vaccinations and annual boosters. For cats, these key jabs include feline parvovirus (FPV), which causes feline infectious enteritis, feline herpes virus (FHV-1) and feline calicivirus (FCV), which are the two main causes of cat flu – a common disease that can be fatal. Any non-core jabs will depend on your feline friend's age and lifestyle, so ask your vet for advice. Dogs' routine jabs will guard against canine parvovirus, canine distemper virus, leptospirosis and infectious canine hepatitis. If you plan to put your pooch in kennels, a kennel cough vaccine (sprayed into his or her nostrils) will keep your dog protected. And if you're planning to take your canine companion abroad, a rabies vaccination may be required. In all cases, these vaccinations will keep disease at bay – and help to ensure your pet stays happy and healthy.
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