With spring finally becoming a reality, it is time to about ticks and other parasites that become more prevalent as the weather begins to warm. As a general rule, we are very fortunate in this valley to have less parasite problems than most of the rest of the country. Because we don’t see as many outward signs of parasites here, we tend to grow a little complacent in our approach to preventing parasite infestations and especially in remembering that there can be dangers to humans as well as to our pets. We will look at both internal and external parasites, products available to deal with parasites, and recommendations on preventative programs for parasites.

The most important external parasites seen in the valley include fleas, lice, ticks, mites, and mosquitoes. Each group has their own unique characteristics and disease potential.

Fleas- fleas are actually uncommon here, especially if we are talking of the true dog and cat flea. The only fleas we routinely see in our practice come from rabbits or rodents. These fleas usually only live on dogs and cats for a short time and they do not permanently infest your house. Despite this good news, they are still of concern because they can bite people and they can act as vectors for disease such as bubonic plague.

Lice are very common on our dogs, especially during the winter months. Though they are visible to the naked eye, they can be surprisingly difficult to see on thick-coated dogs. These lice are highly contagious to other dogs, but do not infest other species. Nevertheless, our staff always seems to be a little itchy after we diagnose a case!

Ticks are the most common external parasite in our valley. They are especially common in the spring and seem to like both dogs and cats. Luckily, we are not aware of naturally occurring Lyme’s disease being transmitted by local ticks but they can carry other diseases that may make your pet both sick and uncomfortable. Likewise, pets can bring ticks into the house unattached where they may later bite a human.

Mites are fairly common parasites in both dogs and cats. Though most forms only infect the host, there are varieties that can infest other pets in the house and the human family members.

Mosquitoes seem to like all warm-blooded animals including our dogs and cats. In addition to being the vector for heartworm disease, mosquitoes also carry viral diseases that can infect both pets and humans. Because of the expected West Nile encephalitis risk, local public health officials are especially interested in reducing mosquito numbers.

Internal parasites are especially overlooked by both veterinarians and pet owners in our valley because we do not tend to see a lot of seriously sick animals resulting from internal parasite infections. Nevertheless, we need to be aware that they are present here and may occasionally cause serious problems for both people and pets.

Tapeworms are probably the most common internal parasite in the Roaring Fork Valley. To become infected with tapeworms, the final host must ingest an intermediate host where the infective form of the parasite lives. For example, the most common way dogs acquire tapeworms here is by eating an infected deer carcass. Cats tend to get tapeworms here by eating mice. Because we don’t have the common dog or cat flea here, tapeworms are not acquired by ingesting fleas, which is the most common way tapeworm infections are acquired in other states.

Roundworms and hookworms are present in this valley and are especially worrisome in puppies and kittens since they may be infected directly from their mother. There also is some concern about these parasites infecting small children who may be playing in an area contaminated by dog or cat feces. Because of this risk, the Center for Disease Control is now recommending a much more rigorous campaign to reduce the risk of human infection.

Heartworm is yet to be a major problem in our valley but is in such nearby communities as Grand Junction. Because it is often a fatal disease and is difficult to treat, prevention is highly recommended to anyone who travels out of the valley with their dog. Because the newer heartworm medications also contain broad spectrum wormers for intestinal parasites, we now commonly recommend putting all dogs on heartworm prevention since we are also worming our dogs monthly with this program. Cats can also acquire heartworm disease but it is rare except in areas of high risk.

Giardia is a very common parasite in the valley, with virtually all open water sources containing giardia cyst. Not all animals that ingest giardia will become clinically infected and many pets will never show signs of infection. Our biggest concern is those animals that do not mount a good immune response and seem to become chronically infected.

With all of these different parasites, it becomes quite a challenge to choose the correct preventative product for your animal’s needs. Luckily, there are many new products available that are quite effective and have a lower risk of complications than the products often seen in the grocery stores. Because there are so many different considerations, we encourage you to consult with one of our doctors or technicians regarding your pet’s individual needs and risks.

Chad Roeber DVM