How to Get Rid of Parasites
Some preventative methods mentioned in the previous chapter may stop parasites from making the situation worse. Unfortunately, no matter how much you try, some can slip through the net and there is no guarantee your pet definitely won’t get parasites. In fact, the majority of domestic pets get parasites at some point in their lifetime.
So, how can they be eliminated? A little of the power is in your hands, but remember that it’s the professional vets who may need to be the ones to eradicate and effectively treat the infected pet. It’s not just the parasite that will need to go, but the complications they cause. This is why a vet is so important – they will be able to find treatments for the symptoms, diseases and problems parasites cause – some of which can be serious and need attention.
How to get rid of ticks on your pet
Note: Do not use your bare hands, always wear protective gloves and dispose of the tick safely without any chance of it coming into contact with you or others. If disease is suspected, the vet may want you to store it securely and bring it in for testing.
Identifying ticks before removal: Firstly, check your pet’s body by running your fingers through their fur and over their skin and looking and feeling for any little lumps which could be ticks – include the armpits, groin and other hidden areas.
Know for sure that whatever you find is really a tick and not something else like a skin growth – ticks look dark in colour (blackish, brown, bronze or greyish). You may also see its eight legs, also dark in colour. Most ticks buried in the skin are pea-shaped, but size will vary depending on the species of tick and whether it has recently fed on the blood or not. Ticks that have fed recently will look engorged, but tick size can range from very small pinhead sizes, to as big as a grape or hazelnut.
Tick removal with tweezers:
- Get a sterile pair of tweezers and put on some medical gloves to protect your skin from the tick. Remember you are dealing with a parasite that could contain a zoonotic disease (i.e. transferable to humans).
- If possible, get someone else to hold your pet down as a wriggling animal may cause the removal to go wrong and do damage.
- Grab the tick with the tweezers ensuring you take hold as near to the skin as you can without pinching and hurting your pet.
- Pull in a straight direction ensuring no parts of the tick are left in the skin, as this can later cause infection. Never pull it out in a twisting motion or squeeze it as tick parts may be left behind and infectious liquids may be seep out.
- If mouthparts remain, do not try and pull them out with the tweezers as this may cause infection. Keep an eye on the area to look out for redness and inflammation, and disinfect the area if it looks clear. Sometimes using a warm compress can encourage the remaining tick parts to leave by themselves, some people say that gin is good for subduing the tick!
- Disinfect the site after removing the tick and be sure to examine the bite area for a couple of weeks afterwards.
- Clean your hands thoroughly, dispose of the gloves and disinfect the tweezers.
- Do not flush the tick down the sink drain or toilet as it can latch onto the drains and remain alive. Also do not crush them as they may release infectious fluid. Dispose the tick in something secure or keep it for the vet to examine for possible disease.
Using a tick remover:
- Wear some medical gloves and, again, allow someone else to restrain your pet to stop them from moving during the removal.
- Place the tick remover close to the skin close to the tick location.
- There should be a notch on the tick remover and you need to slide it underneath the tick.
- Keep sliding to the point where the tick is captured within the smaller end of the tick remover’s notch to the point where the tick is taken off.
- Disinfect the area.
- Safely and securely remove the tick from the remover tool.
- Take your gloves off, dispose them and wash your hands thoroughly.
Getting rid of fleas
A pet with fleas will not necessarily need veterinary attention, unless the fleas have transmitted a disease to your pet which shows up in symptoms.
Cats can be given flea collars. These help to kill fleas and a collar is placed in an area where fleas can be rife and where flea treatments are best given – the neck. Make sure you choose one that kills adult fleas and eggs.
Various flea shampoos are available for cats and dogs so you can bathe your pet with shampoo containing insecticides to kill off fleas.
Pets need to be groomed with flea combs to help keep the flea population down. Fleas will be easily picked up during routine grooming and pets may self-groom and get rid of many, too. Combing alone will not get rid of 100% of fleas, however, so be sure to use other treatments too.
You can buy flea powders to kill them off just by applying to the pet’s coat. Sprays are also available, some that are designed to use on the pet, and others that are designed to use only in the environment around the house.
Oral suspensions are available to be given about once a month. When the pet eats it in their meal the ingredients enter their bloodstream and if a flea bites, these ingredients prevent eggs from hatching.
Spot-on treatments are popular. These are topical products administered between your pet’s shoulder blades directly on to the skin.
Regardless of which treatments you use, make sure they are recommended by your vet and follow the instructions fully. Some products are dangerous in specific animals, so be sure it’s safe for your pet and how much and how often it is needed.
Instead of taking a risk and buying from the internet or off the shelf, be safe and get a recommendation from your vet. In fact, many drugs will need a prescription authorised by your vet and you will not know the best option until the vet examines and tests the pet in order to find the best treatment plan.
See the vet
Simple and obvious, but sometimes it really is out of your hands. Some things need to be left to the professionals. The nastiest parasites can make your pet very ill indeed and the best person to help is a vet. With the symptoms of some parasites being very unpleasant, only your vet can provide the best care and advice to help your pet feel better.
Following aftercare and instructions from your vet
In severe cases, some pets may need to be hospitalised if infected with a particularly evil parasite causing serious health problems. Be prepared for your pet once they are released home and keep an eye on them. General good care for your pet goes a long, long way.
What about natural treatments?
Despite claims on the topic of natural treatments and preventions, some parasites are a serious threat to your pet’s health and need urgent and proper care and treatment from a professional. Sometimes these stubborn and dangerous pests will only go away and, make your pet feel better, through prescribed drugs or other treatments that natural options cannot match.
What about parasites known to “go away by themselves”?
Will keeping pets indoors eradicate the risk?
Unfortunately, this advice isn’t always realistic. Dogs thrive outdoors and need the exercise a twice daily walk can provide. A cooped up pet will get bored, anxious and unhealthy. Never change a dog’s daily walking routine into a routine that doesn’t involve the outdoors at all. That would be cruel and make them very unhappy and could cause behavioural problems.
Cats are slightly different, although both cats and dogs have a natural instinct to explore and hunt. Many people have indoor cats for various reasons and some cats may be quite happy to be indoors as long as they are stimulated and given enough attention and exercise.
Overall, though, an indoor pet will not be completely safeguarded from parasites. Firstly, your home may already be infested with some of them, with the likes of mites or fleas lurking in crevices. Other animals can bring in parasites and infect their fellow home pets, even if those fellow pets are indoor-only animals.
Parasites are more likely to thrive in warmer surroundings. Your home will seem a lot warmer than the cooler outdoors, making your home a parasite haven even in the winter months. If fleas are present, then so are the problems they can carry over to pets e.g. your indoor cat could still get tapeworm.
Any home can get unwanted visits from rodents. Rodents are big carriers of parasites, which your cat or dog will happily sniff out and try and kill, which could lead to being infected.
Parasites can be tricky to get rid of entirely, so once your home has had some, the chances are they could be hanging around for quite some time.
The answer is, if your pet is happy with their outdoor trips, keep them going. It’s healthier in many ways. Try the prevention tips, go to regular vet check-ups and give your pet regularly parasite treatments to give them the best protection you can.
How do vets diagnose and treat specific cases?
Fleas: Don’t normally need veterinary attention unless the fleas have caused further complications such as flea bite dermatitis, the transmission of tapeworm or other problems or disease. You will need to ask for flea treatment suggestions, however, as over the counter products may not be safe or suitable for your specific pet. Cleaning all bedding and treating the house will help in preventing reoccurrence. Get all other pets checked for fleas as they can be contagious.
Mites: Vets normally need a sample of the discharge from your pet’s ear, which they will then examine using a microscope. If mites are seen, your vet will then prescribe a medication that is administered into the pet’s ear or skin. When an infection is present, or the ear has build-up, cleansing of the area may be needed – difficult or bad cases may require your pet to be sedated or put under anaesthetic. Antibiotics or anti-inflammatories may be given. Your vet will instruct you on any home care routines that may be needed and the full course of medication is required to be given for the problem to completely go. Mites are highly contagious, so get other pets in your household checked for them.
Ticks: Veterinary attention is needed for ticks if you are either unsure of how to correctly remove the tick, you removed the tick but did it incorrectly or caused infection, or if the tick transmitted a disease that is showing up symptoms in your pet. You can learn how to remove a tick at the beginning of this same chapter, or see your vet for more help. Even if the removal is successful, you must closely observe your pet and their skin for several weeks for any unusual symptoms or illness that may indicate a tick-borne disease that needs urgent treatment. Your vet may need to conduct blood tests and other examinations to rule out or detect disease. If dealt with quickly, antibiotics may be prescribed to fight off the likes of Lyme’s disease. Ticks can fall off and attach themselves onto other animals (and people), so check yourself and get your other pets checked.
Lice: As with fleas, veterinary attention isn’t normally needed, but you should contact your local vets for safe and suitable lice treatment recommendations. Again, some products are too harsh for some pets, so listen to your vet . More extreme cases may require fur removal if it is matted. Wash all bedding and other objects your pet comes into contact with. Have any other household pets checked for lice, too.
Worms: Intestinal worms may require a sample of your pet’s faeces to be examined by the vet. Other tests may be needed, especially if other kinds of parasitic worm are detected, such as heartworm or lungworm – blood tests, x-rays and other testing. Once the worm has been found, a treatment can be worked out. Treatment does depend on the type of worm involved and whether secondary problems are present, but it ranges from injections, antibiotics, anti-parasitic drugs, corticosteroids, supplementation, etc. Depending on the severity it may mean further and more urgent treatment is needed such as fluid therapy or blood transfusions. As some worms can enter the environment and be ingested by other pets, get all household animals checked for worms.