Pet Internal and External Parasites
Heartworms are a common internal parasite found typically only in ferrets and not in other exotics. Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes and, once mature, take residence in the heart and large vessels of the lungs. Symptoms of infection are variable but most often are related to the respiratory system. You may suspect that your ferret has been infected if it has symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, or weight loss; however, one or more tests may be necessary to determine whether or not your ferret has heartworms. There is no acceptable treatment for heartworm in ferrets, so prevention is key. We recommend monthly preventatives such as Revolution or Heartgard year-round. Heartworms are generally not considered a risk to humans.
Hookworms are rare internal parasites found in exotics. Hookworms live in the digestive system and attach to the lining of the intestinal wall and feed on your pet’s blood. Eggs are ejected into the digestive tract and pass into the environment through your pet’s feces. Larvae live in the soil and can infect your pet through contact with and penetration of the skin and through eating the hookworm larvae. They can cause blood loss, weight loss, diarrhea, or death. Keeping your pet’s environment clean and keeping your pet away from contaminated areas are the best steps for prevention. Monthly heartworm preventatives such as Revolution or Heartgard include preventatives for hookworms. Exotics should be tested for hookworms if they display similar signs and treated if they are found. Humans are rarely infected by hookworm from exotics.
Roundworms are rare internal parasites found in exotics. Roundworms may be contracted in different ways, including from their mother’s milk, making them easy to spread and hard to control. Many exotics do not have signs of infection, but some may show weight loss, dull hair, and a potbellied appearance. Your pet may cough if the roundworms move into the lungs. You may notice the adult roundworms in your pet’s feces or vomit. They will appear white or light brown in color and may be several inches long. Monthly heartworm preventatives such as Revolution include preventatives for roundworms. Humans are rarely infected by roundworms from exotics.
Tapeworms are a common internal parasite found in exotics. Tapeworms are long, flat worms that attach to the intestines. Exotics become infected with tapeworms by eating an intermediate host infected with larvae, most commonly fleas, beetles, or mites. Rodents and other exotics can serve as indirect hosts for tapeworms if consumed by dogs or pets. Tapeworm infections are usually diagnosed by finding segments that appear as small white worms that may look like grains of rice or seeds, usually on the rear end or in feces. Most tapeworms do not produce obvious symptoms. Flea and mite control is an important step in preventing tapeworms. There is a simple treatment available for tapeworms. People are rarely infected by tapeworms in exotic pets.
Coccidia is a common internal parasite found in exotics, especially in rabbits. Coccidia is tiny single-celled parasites that live in the wall of your pet’s intestine. They are found more often in young, but they can also infect older animals. Exotics become infected by swallowing soil that contains coccidia or other substances in the environment that may contain feces. Coccidia infection can cause diarrhea and can be fatal, especially in young. However, many exotics show no symptoms. Removing feces from your yard and your pet’s environment is the best protection. We can test if your exotic is showing signs, and treat if necessary, your pet for coccidia. There is no risk for infections in humans from exotics.
Giardia is a common internal parasite found in exotics. Giardia is a single-celled parasite that lives in your pet’s intestine. It commonly infects older exotics but more frequently infects the young. Exotics become infected when they swallow Giardia which may be present in water or other substances that have been soiled with feces. Giardia in exotics can cause diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, poor condition, or death. However, most infected exotics show no symptoms. The best way to prevent an infection is to make sure that your pet has safe, clean drinking water and also remove feces from your yard and the pet’s environment. We can test if your exotic is showing signs and treat, if necessary, your pet for Giardia. People can get Giardia, causing diarrhea or other problems, but rarely from exotics.
Trichomonads are a common internal parasite found in exotics, especially reptiles. Reptiles normally carry low levels of trichomonads and show no symptoms. When they become stressed, especially reptiles that are wild-caught, high numbers of trichomonads may be found. Signs of high trichomonads numbers include diarrhea, lethargy, anorexia, poor condition, and weight loss. We can test if your exotic is showing signs and treat, if necessary, your pet for trichomonads. There is no risk for infections in humans from exotics.
Fleas are a common external parasite found on exotics and are usually found on ferrets and rabbits. You will probably first notice the effects of fleas when your pet repeatedly nibbles at and licks its haircoat and skin. The constant nibbling and licking may lead to noticeable patches of hair loss, tiny crusts, and reddened, irritated skin. Fleas may also cause skin allergies and can transmit other parasites, such as tapeworms, to your pet. We recommend monthly preventatives such as Revolution, Frontline, or Nexgard year-round. Treatment may require environmental treatment as well. Humans may get fleas from infected animals, but the fleas will generally live only on the animal.
Ticks are a rare external parasite found on exotics. Ticks themselves cause only mild irritation, but they can carry diseases that pose a serious threat to animals and humans, such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Ehrlichia. Illnesses transmitted by ticks can cause fever, anemia, loss of appetite, lethargy, and depression in animals. Ticks can be prevented by regular use of tick control products such as Frontline. People can not catch Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, or Ehrlichia from infected animals, but the same ticks that bite animals can cause these illnesses and others if they bite humans.
Demodex is a rare external parasite found on exotics and is usually found in gerbils and hamsters. Demodex causes a skin disease often referred to as mange. The microscopic Demodex mites live in the hair follicles and oil glands of your pet’s skin or at the skin surface. Many animals have natural mite populations; however, most healthy animals are able to suppress the populations from becoming problematic. Usually, animals that are going to be affected by Demodex show signs of mange early in life. Occasionally, an animal will develop demodectic mange as an adult; however, this usually means that the animal has another medical condition that is compromising the immune system. Demodex mites create patches of hair loss as a result of mild irritation and itching, usually starting on the muzzle and head and progressing toward the rear. Diagnosis of Demodex mites is made through skin scrapings of the affected areas. Localized infestations can easily be treated, and most are resolved with no treatment. Generalized infestations of Demodex can be more challenging to treat. Demodex from pets poses no risk to humans.
Scabies is a common external parasite found on exotics, especially in shelters or when groups of animals are housed together. Scabies is also known as Sarcoptic Mange and is a highly contagious skin mite. The mites burrow into the skin and cause severe itching, which can result in the formation of scabs and hair loss that looks like skin allergies. Keeping your pet healthy and avoiding frequent contact with other animals who might have scabies is the best way of keeping your pet safe. Skin scrapings are needed to diagnose scabies, and treatments are available if needed. Scabies can be passed to people but usually clears up by themselves when the animal is treated.
Ear mites are a common external parasite found on exotics. Ear mites are tiny mites, barely visible to the human eye, that live on the surface of ear canal skin in pets. An infestation produces tiny black specks, similar to coffee grounds. Ear mite infestation is usually detected by your pet scratching at an irritation in the ear. The ear may become red and inflamed, and skin diseases may result from ear mite infestation. Exotics typically get ear mites from infected dogs or cats. Ear mites are treatable with a number of products currently on the market. Ear mites are not generally considered a risk to humans.
Cheyletiellosis, also called walking dandruff, is a highly contagious skin disease of cats, as well as dogs and rabbits. Young exotics, and those more frequently in direct contact with other animals through boarding and shelters, are more susceptible. Scaling of the skin (excessive dandruff) is the most common symptom. Infested exotics also may exhibit unusual behavioral changes, such as excessive grooming. Long-haired animals are common carriers of this disease. Keep your exotic from animals that may carry it. People can be infected by these mites from animals.
Lice are a rare external parasite found on exotics. Lice are host-specific parasites meaning they do not tend to leave their preferred animal. For example, cat lice tend to spend their entire life cycle on cats. Transmission is by direct contact with other infected animals. The most noted sign of a louse infestation is a scruffy, dry hair coat. Hair loss may occur, and the animal may itch, at times, severely. In very heavy infestations, exotics may become anemic, especially in young animals. Frontline is used as a monthly preventative for lice. Environmental control is generally not needed.
Cuterebra is a rare internal/external parasite found on exotics, especially rabbits, gerbils, and hamsters. Female botflies deposit their eggs in vegetation near the habitat of rabbits or rodents. Upon coming into contact with a host, eggs hatch, and the infective larvae enter through the mucous membranes or may directly penetrate the skin. For a period of 3-5 weeks, the larvae migrate through the body and remain under the skin before leaving the host to mature into a botfly underground. The Cuterebra creates a pore in the skin so it can breathe and release wastes. This opening oozes and irritates the animal, which often scratches the area until large patches of skin become red and bare. Treatment options are available for Cuterebra. There is no human risk of obtaining Cuterebra from pets, but humans may get them from the eggs on vegetation.
Heartgard is a once-a-month chewable tablet to prevent heartworm disease and to treat and control hookworms. It is safe for ferrets eight weeks and older. The active ingredient is ivermectin. Make sure your dog, cat, or ferret chews the tablet completely before swallowing.
NexGard is a once-a-month chewable tablet to kill fleas and American dog ticks. This product will kill fleas on your dog before fleas can lay eggs all month long. It has not been approved for cats.
The active ingredient is afoxolaner. Make sure your dog chews the tablet completely before swallowing.
Revolution is a once-a-month topical that prevents heartworm disease, treats and controls fleas, ear mites, hookworms, and roundworms, and controls one species of ticks. It is safe for ferrets eight weeks and older. The active ingredient is selamectin. Make sure you apply directly on the skin where it cannot be licked off.
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