As Texas continues to warm up and prepare for spring, the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, TVMDL, is reminding animal owners to be aware of common springtime parasites that have the potential to impact animal health.
According to Mindy Borst, clinical pathology assistant section head and TVMDL’s subject matter expert on parasites, familiarity with a parasite doesn’t mean pet owners should let their guard down in mitigating possible risks.
Common parasites pose a host of problems
Most pet owners are familiar with spring’s more common pests such as fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. However, each of these well-known nuisances has the potential to transmit a variety of diseases.
For example, most pet owners are likely aware of the discomfort fleas can cause pets, and themselves, if bitten. However, fleas are also intermediate hosts for the parasite Dipylidium caninum, a type of tapeworm. This parasite causes infection when a cat or dog ingests an infected flea.
Though infected animals are usually asymptomatic, an infection may present as gastrointestinal issues. Sometimes tapeworm segments, which resemble grains of rice, can be seen in the feces or pet bedding.
Ticks and mosquitoes
While it’s important pet owners mitigate the risk of fleas, Borst encourages pet owners to stay especially vigilant regarding ticks and mosquitos.
“My honest concerns for spring are ticks and mosquitoes,” she said.
Ticks can transmit a slew of diseases, such as Lyme disease, tick-borne relapsing fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, hepatozoonosis and others.
Borst said mosquitoes serve as an intermediate host to a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis, or heartworm. Detecting this parasite may be difficult due to its long life cycle. Depending on the maturity of the parasite, an infected animal may test negative for heart worm.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize that when a dog contracts heartworm disease, it takes six months to detect,” Borst said. “So, if a dog is bitten by a positive mosquito in May, microfilaria can’t be found until at least November. A missed dose of heartworm prevention could be deadly here.”
In addition to more common pests, pet owners should also be aware of the reduviid bug, commonly known as the kissing bug, which is most active in the late spring and early summer. Kissing bugs serve as the host for Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite known to cause Chagas disease, which can cause sudden illness or possibly a chronic lifelong condition.
How can TVMDL help in detecting springtime parasites?
TVMDL offers a variety of tests to detect parasites. Depending on the testing method, TVMDL can detect parasites throughout many stages of their life cycles.
In the clinical pathology section, TVMDL offers a complete blood count, CBC, which includes hemoparasite review. This method offers clients a comprehensive view of the animal’s health while also determining if the animal is hosting blood-borne pathogens.
Also, in the clinical pathology section, clients may submit the whole parasite for identification by Borst. They may also submit a pet’s fecal sample if there are concerns about gastrointestinal parasites.
Across other testing sections, TVMDL offers multiple panel types to screen for tick-borne diseases in addition to tests to detect mosquito-borne diseases, such as West Nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis, and testing for Chagas disease. Additionally, several of TVMDL’s parasite-focused tests extend beyond cats and dogs and can be requested for different species, such as cattle and horses.
Collecting the appropriate sample is imperative for these types of tests; therefore, TVMDL strongly encourages pet owners to work with a veterinarian to determine the appropriate testing route and to assist with sample collection.
For more information on TVMDL’s parasite-testing options, or others, visit https://tvmdl.tamu.edu or call one of the agency’s full-service laboratories in College Station or Canyon.