Dealing with dog parasites is almost inevitable when you own a puppy, – in our case a Chihuahua. Dogs have the same reaction to fleas, ticks and mites. When an insect lands on you, you can whisk it away with your hand. Unfortunately, when a dog is bitten by a flea, tick or mite he can only scratch or bite.
By the time your Chihuahua has been bitten, the parasite has done its damage. It may also have laid eggs, which will cause further problems. The itching from parasite bites is probably due to the saliva injected into the site when the parasite sucks the dog’s blood.
External Dog Parasites
Fleas: Most common external dog parasites. Flea infestation is relatively simple to cure but difficult to prevent. To control flea infestation, you have to understand the flea’s life cycle. Fleas are often thought of as a summertime problem, but centrally heated homes have made fleas a year round problem.
The most effective method of treating fleas is a two-stage approach. Kill the adult fleas, then control the development of pre-adult fleas. Unfortunately, no single active ingredient is effective against all stages of the flea life cycle.
Controlling fleas is a two-pronged attack. First, the environment needs to be treated; this includes carpets and furniture, especially your Chihuahua’s bedding and areas underneath furniture. The environment should be treated with a household spray containing an insect growth regulator and containing an insecticide to kill the adult fleas.
Most insecticides are effective against eggs and larvae; they mimic the fleas’ own hormones and stop the eggs and larvae from developing into adult fleas. There are currently no treatments available to attack the pupae stage of the life cycle, so the adult insecticide is used to kill the newly hatched fleas before they find a host.
The second treatment stage is to apply an adult insecticide to your Chihuahua. Traditionally, this would be in the form of a flea collar or a spray, but more recent innovations include digestible insecticide that poison the fleas when they ingest the dog’s blood.
Ticks: Though not as common dog parasites as fleas, ticks are found in tropical and temperate climates. They don’t bite like fleas; they harpoon. They dig their sharp proboscis (nose) into your Chi’s skin and drink the blood, which is their only food and drink. Ticks are controlled the same way fleas are controlled.
Mites: Just as fleas and ticks can be problematic for your dog, mites can also lead to an itch fit. Microscopic in size, mites are related to ticks and generally take up permanent residence on their host animal-in this case, your Chihuahua!
There are six varieties of mites that smart dog owners should know about:
The Cheyletiellosis mite is the hook mouthed culprit associated with “walking dandruff”, a condition that affects dogs as well as cats and rabbits. If untreated, this mange can affect a whole kennel of dogs and can be spread to humans, as well.
The Sarcoptes mite causes intense itching on the dog in the form of a condition known as scabies or sarcoptic mange. Scabies is highly contagious and can be passed to humans. Sometimes an allergic reaction to the mite worsens the severe itching associated with sarcoptic mange.
Ear mites, Otodectes cynotis, lead to otodectic mange, which commonly affects the outer ear canal of the dog, though other areas can be affected as well. Your vet can prescribe a treatment to flush out ears and kill any eggs in the ears. A month of treatment is necessary to cure mange.
Two other mites, that are less common in dogs, include Dermanyssus gallinae and Eutrombicula alfreddugesi. The types of mange caused by both of these mites must be treated by vets.
Internal Dog Parasites
There are two kinds of parasites: smart and dumb. The “smart” parasites live in peaceful cooperation with their hosts, while the “dumb” parasites kill their hosts. Most worm infections are relatively easy to control. If they are not controlled, they weaken the host dog to the point that other medical problems occur, but they do not kill the host as “dumb” parasites would.
Here are some of the most common worms, as internal dog parasites:
Roundworms: Roundworms that infect dogs live in the dog’s intestines and shed eggs continually. It has been estimated that a dog produces about six or more ounces of feces every day, and each ounce averages hundreds of thousands of roundworm eggs. Because roundworms infect people too, it is wise to have your dog regularly tested.
Roundworm infection can kill puppies and cause severe problems in adult dogs, as the hatched larvae travel to the lungs and trachea through the bloodstream. Cleanliness is the best prevention against roundworms. Always pick up after your dog and dispose of feces in appropriate receptacles.
Hookworms: Hookworms are dangerous to humans as well as to dogs and cats, and they can be the cause of severe iron deficiency anemia. This dog parasite uses its teeth to attach itself to the dog’s intestines and changes the site of its attachment about six times per day. Each time the worm repositions itself, the dog loses blood and can become anemic.
Symptoms of hookworm infection include dark stools, weight loss, general weakness, pale coloration and anemia as well as possible skin problems. Fortunately, hookworms are easily purged with a number of medications that have proven effective.
Humans can be infected by hookworms through exposure to contaminated feces. Because the worms cannot complete their life cycle in a human, the worms simply infest the skin and cause irritation. As a preventive, use disposable gloves or a poop scoop to pick up your dog’s droppings. In addition, be sure to prevent your dog from defecating in children’s play areas.
Tapeworms: These dog parasites are carried by fleas. Fleas are so small that your Chihuahua could pass them onto your hands, your plate or your food, making it possible for you to ingest a flea that is carrying tapeworm eggs. While tapeworm infection is not life-threatening in dogs, it can be the cause of a very serious liver disease in humans.
Whipworms: In North America, whipworms are counted among the most common parasitic worms in dogs. Affected dogs may only experience upset stomachs, colic and diarrhea. These worms, however, can live for months or years in the dog, beginning their larval stage in the small intestine, spending their adult stage in the large intestine and finally passing infective eggs through the dog’s feces.
The only way to detect whipworms is through a fecal examination, though this is not always foolproof. Treatment for whipworms is tricky, due to the worms’ unusual life cycle, and often dogs are reinfected due to infective eggs on the ground. Cleaning up droppings in your backyard and in public places is absolutely essential for sanitation purposes and the health of your dog and others.
Threadworms: Though less common than roundworms, hookworms and previously mentioned parasites, threadworms concern dog owners in the southwestern United States and Gulf Coast area where it is hot and humid.
They live in the small intestine of the dog, and measure a mere two millimeters. Like the whipworm, the threadworm’s life cycle is very complex, and the eggs and larvae are passed through the feces. A deadly disease in humans, threadworms readily infect people, mostly through the direct handling of dog feces. Threadworms are most often seen in puppies. Common symptoms include bloody diarrhea and pneumonia. Sick puppies must be isolated and treated immediately; vets recommend a follow-up treatment one month later.
Heartworms: Heartworms are thin, extended worms up to 12 inches long, that live in a dog’s heart and the major blood vessels surrounding it. Dogs may have up to 200 heartworms. Symptoms include loss of energy, loss of appetite, coughing, the development of a pot belly and anemia.
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes, which drink the blood of infected dogs and take in larvae with the blood. The larvae, called microfilariae, develop within the body of the mosquito and are passed on to the next dog bitten after the larvae mature. It takes two to three weeks for the larvae to develop to the infective stage within the body of the mosquito. Dogs are usually treated at about 6 weeks of age and maintained on a prophylactic dose given monthly.
Blood testing for dog parasites like heartworms is not necessarily indicative of how seriously your dog is infected. Although this is a dangerous disease, it is not easy for a dog to become infected. Discuss the various preventive treatments with your vet, because there are many different types now available. Together you can decide on a safe course of prevention for your dog.