As a pet owner, you are probably already aware of at least some of the most common parasites to affect dogs and cats. Fleas, ticks and worms can all cause problems for our pets, but did you know that they can also present a threat to your family? In this blog, we discuss these zoonotic parasites and explain how to keep your pets and your family safe and healthy.
A flea is a small, wingless parasite which has powerful legs, allowing it to jump from one warm-blooded host to another. Although cat and dog fleas cannot live on humans, these blood-suckers do bite people. Flea bites cause a red bump which is often extremely itchy. Often, secondary infections occur if a victim cannot resist the urge to scratch at the site of the bite. Fleas can also carry tapeworm larvae. Humans' tapeworm infection via fleas is quite unlikely, as a flea would have to be accidentally ingested. However, tapeworm can infect humans through other modes of transmission (see below).
Ticks are a group of parasites from the spider family. Like fleas, they feed on blood and may attach themselves to a human if the opportunity arises. Ticks are a particular worry for humans because they can transmit a variety of dangerous diseases. Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are amongst the serious illnesses which can be passed on by tick bites.
There are several different types of worms which can infect pets and be passed to humans. It is quite rare for humans to catch worms directly from a pet. Usually, infection takes place when a human inadvertently comes into contact with animal feces carrying worm eggs. Roundworm is the most common parasite to affect dogs and cats, and in humans can cause eye, lung and heart problems. Tapeworm is the name given to a group of internal parasites which live within the digestive system and are rarely passed to humans. Hookworms use a slightly different method of infection, burrowing under the skin, and often infect people who walk barefoot on the ground.
A lesser known but dangerous parasite is Toxoplasma gondii. The infection caused by this parasite is called toxoplasmosis and is a serious health complaint for humans. People with weakened immune systems are at the greatest risk of contracting this parasite, while babies born from infected pregnant women may be born with defects.
Protecting Your Family From Parasites
- Treat your family pets with Frontline Plus or Revolution every month to defend them against fleas and ticks. One of the benefits of using Frontline Plus is that is kills fleas at all stages of the life-cycle, to prevent rapid re-infestation.
- Use a dewormer such as Droncit to eliminate worms cleanly and without fuss.
- Clean up your pets' feces daily and do not let them do their business in areas where you are growing plants for consumption or children's play areas.
- If you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, someone else should deal with poop-duty, to minimize the risk of Toxoplasma infection.
- Regular hand-washing, especially after playing with pets, gardening or working outdoors is vital for family members of all ages. Try to discourage kids from putting their fingers in their mouth, as this is probably the most common way for youngsters to catch parasites.