Your essential guide to common dog parasites

Let’s face it, protecting your dog from parasites isn’t the most fun aspect of pet ownership! But it’s a vital part of looking after their health and wellbeing. With the help of Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner, we look at how to tackle dog fleas, ticks, mites and other common pests.

Parasites can make life miserable for our pets. They’re not just irksome – if untreated, they can lead to serious health problems. Fortunately, there are many effective treatments available, and a little knowledge will help keep your dog healthy, happy and pest-free. With March marking the start of the flea season, now’s the perfect time to get up to speed on how to protect against these tiny nasties.

Dog fleas

These small, brown-black parasites love sucking blood and are relatively easy to spot. As well as being uncomfortable for your dog, fleas can lead to serious skin problems if untreated. They can also cause Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) if your dog is allergic to the proteins in flea saliva.

The good news is that these pesky parasites are easily tackled if found. One way to determine whether your dog has fleas is to groom them with a fine-toothed comb over a moist piece of white kitchen towel. If you see reddish-brown droppings, it’s likely your dog has fleas.

Fleas can be caught from being around other dogs or cats, by someone bringing them into the house on clothes or shoes, or by another infected pet shedding flea eggs on bedding and carpets.

See your vet for advice on the safest and most effective treatment for dog fleas. It’s also important to treat your house and pet bedding thoroughly to prevent any reinfestation. And don’t forget to make sure any other dogs and cats in your home receive treatment, too.

Prevention is always better than cure, so use a flea treatment on all your pets regularly to keep them healthy. Consider changing your treatment every few years to ensure the pesky parasites don’t get too comfortable with it. While most flea treatments are generally suitable, if your dog is pregnant or a young puppy, it’s worth checking with your vet about the most appropriate action. And read our Q&A on fleas for more tips.


If your dog has lice, then he’s likely to have a dry, patchy coat and an insatiable itch. Lice are small, but visible to the human eye, as are their tiny white eggs. There are various types of treatment available from your vet. But if you think your dog could have had lice for a while, they might require more than one treatment. Ask your vet for the best way to proceed.


Of all the parasites, ticks can be among the most dastardly. These blood-sucking blighters attach themselves to your dog’s skin, usually in long grass or in woodland. They should be removed immediately to ensure they don’t pass on diseases such as Lyme disease, or cause an abscess.

Ticks can be removed using a special tick-removing tool – a twisting motion ensures the head doesn’t remain embedded in your dog’s skin. Again, a preventative ‘spot-on’ treatment can be used if you think your dog might be exposed to ticks.


Mites are tiny parasites spread by direct skin contact. If your dog has mites, they are likely to be scratching vigorously and their skin will be scaly, flaking or inflamed. If you think your dog does have mites, your vet will usually treat it using either a spot-on or oral insecticidal treatment – but you should still also regularly wash bedding and grooming equipment to help prevent the spread.


All dogs are susceptible to worms, regardless of their age, and unfortunately there are a wide range of these internal parasites to watch out for. Most worms are transmitted when dogs eat worm eggs, but they can also be passed on to puppies from their mother though the milk or placenta. Common kinds include:


Found in the gut and lungs, these dog parasites can cause a range of symptoms, including diarrhoea. Roundworm eggs can be found in soil containing the faeces of an infected animal. In rare cases, they can cause sight loss.


Tapeworms use intermediate hosts, including fleas and rodents. They absorb pre-digested food inside the bowel and then pass small segments of tapeworm in an infected dog’s droppings. If your poor pooch is rubbing his bottom on the floor or ground, this might be the cause.


These live in the respiratory tract and can affect dogs that eat snails or slugs, which they can acquire when they chew grass. Lungworms can be very serious (and in extreme cases can lead to death) so seek advice from your vet and make sure you are regularly using a product that prevents against lungworm.


These parasites literally hook themselves into the lining of the intestines. They can be dangerous as they take vital nutrients from your dog, which can lead to anaemia – or spread to the lungs in more serious cases.

Diseases relating to dog worms can pose a risk to humans, too, particularly children. So keeping your dog free from parasites is important for the whole family, not just the furry members. To prevent reinfection, it’s important to dose your dog with an adequate preventative product as frequently as is recommended. Consult your vet if you need advice on what to use.

Download our handy guide to common pests for an overview of how to spot them, as well as prevention tips.

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