Precautions and preventative steps are the way to go if you want to avoid all the unpleasantness and illness parasites bring along with them. Though you cannot 100% stop a parasite infestation in your pet, there are things you can do to minimise them occurring. Here are some preventative tips:
Part of being a good pet owner is being conscious of your pet’s general and everyday health and welfare. Part of this is ensuring you apply parasite treatments regularly. These treatments are designed to keep parasites away, with spot-on flea treatments, worming tablets and other products strongly recommended by every vet out there.
If you are unsure of which treatments are safe, are the right kind to use, how to administer them and how often, speak to your vet and they will advise and provide recommendations. Always follow veterinary advice as specific treatments will be needed and not following recommendations can be detrimental to your pet’s health.
There may be specific treatments and protocols required for pregnant and lactating pets, so always check with your vet first.
Infested pets almost certainly will leave parasites and larvae on the things they come into constant contact with. Bedding is the most common item likely to be infested with fleas or mites. A common problem that some pet owners don’t realise is that even after the infested pet is treated and clear of the parasite, they can be re-infested all over again if the bedding isn’t also cleaned.
Wash all bedding on a regular basis to prevent parasites living within them and re-infesting your pet.
Think of any other objects that your pet comes into contact with – blankets, soft toys, cushions, carpets, rugs… these will need cleaning too to prevent another infestation.
After cleaning your house to prevent infestations, make sure you discard these properly – vacuum cleaner bags need to be thrown away and your vacuum cleaner may need cleaning.
It’s not just the pet that needs treatment! Parasites could be lurking all around your house ready to infest or re-infest your pet. Contact your vet for an effective and safe treatment spray you can use around the home – remember to use it in each room, on fabrics, surfaces, objects and in the nooks and crannies as these are a flea’s favourite hang outs.
Parasites can infest other pets and people by being excreted into the environment where they can be picked up. Accidental ingestion of these parasitic worm eggs does happen, so remove and dispose of faeces as soon as you notice them. Don’t leave them as this increases chances of contamination. Also ensure you discard them by wrapping them up and be hygienic to protect yourself from ingesting anything. Wear protective gloves and wash your hands thoroughly. This advice goes for both cat litter trays and areas where your dog defecates.
Whether it’s a cat or dog, groom them on a regular basis. Pets with longer fur need to be groomed more regularly than short haired breeds. Use a range of brushes and combs and when you brush also check the skin and fur for parasites – dark or white specks that often appear to jump or move, or round ticks with their heads burrowed under the skin. This way you can prevent parasite populations from getting any higher and keep your pet’s coat in a good condition.
At least once a year you should get your pet checked by your vet. Not only does this give them the opportunity to have a general examination and booster vaccinations, it also gives the vet a chance to notice any abnormal signs including the presence of parasites. Sometimes pet owners simply do not know their pet has parasites, but a professional vet will recognise the signs and provide suitable treatment. Vets can also perform tests to look out for nasty parasites.
Clean water is a must, as some parasites can live and thrive in stale water. Change it at least twice a day. Food should be safely sourced and many experts suggest giving your pet raw meat diets can increase the risk of parasitic infection. Raw meat can contain parasites which are normally killed off when they’re cooked, so cooked meat sourced from reputable suppliers may be the safest bet.
Not the most pleasant thing to do, but could be a good indicator to see whether your pet has worms. Every now and then, without touching the faeces, check for any small grain-like shapes in the faeces or in the fur around your pet’s anus.
Not just one, but all your pets. Often when one pet gets parasites the chances of them passing them on to fellow pets is high. Make sure the infected pet is isolated from other pets and check and treat any other pets for parasites.
This may be tricky as animals have that hunting and exploring instinct in them. Most of this behaviour you won’t be able to control, but certain elements can be prevented – e.g. when taking your dog for a walk avoid areas where they are likely to meet other wild animals, put secure lids on your garbage bins, walk your dog on a leash in areas where potential risk factors may tempt them, stop them if you see them attempting to hunt and eat at small creatures such as rodents, birds or slugs and snails, and keep them away from sniffing at or eating other animal’s faeces. Some of these can be avoided by walking your dog on a lead and closely observing them when off the lead.
Observe their appearance and behaviour to check for any abnormal symptoms. If, for whatever reason, you notice something wrong, don’t leave it – if it is parasites, the problem could get much worse and cause serious complications – go to the vets and get them checked.
When going to a veterinary check-up with your pet, you will get the usual examination and vaccinations. Some vets won’t test your pet for parasites unless you ask for it, though. If you want to keep on top of everything and know whether there is any trace of parasites in your pet’s body, just ask the vet to conduct some parasitic tests so you know they’re clear or need treatment. This can be done every year, but if you suspect your pet does have parasites, you can contact your vet and ask them to take a look at any time.
As the human health risk chapter outlines, remember you are at risk from certain parasites too. Follow good hygiene, protect areas where you and children can pick up worms (e.g. cover sandpit play areas to prevent animals from using them as a toilet – cats in particular like clean sand!) and act on any signs of illness by going to the doctor. Some parasites can cause few to no symptoms, but some can be very serious indeed and affect major organs in your body.
Remember children and babies are at a greater risk of parasites. Keep animals out of play pits and avoid taking your children and pets to play areas where other animals frequent, particularly if you have witnessed other animals using the area as a toilet. Keep an eye on your children, teach them good hygiene which should include stopping them from putting their hands in their mouths if they get dirty.