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Puppy parasites

Parasite problems can be experienced even when your dog is very young, says vet Brian Faulkner, so it’s crucial to start a regular prevention regime as soon as possible. Here is a reminder of the most common parasitic infestations and how to manage them.

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Fleas

Tiny, brown-black adult fleas feed from your puppy by sucking its blood. Besides causing your pet considerable discomfort, a heavy infestation can lead to serious skin problems.

As well as from other cats or dogs, fleas can be caught from bedding, carpets or soft furnishings on which an infected pet has shed flea eggs. You can also accidentally infect your dog by bringing fleas into the home on your clothing or shoes.

Fleas are usually easy to spot. If you’re not sure, groom your puppy with a fine-toothed comb over moist, white kitchen towel. If the droppings turn reddish-brown, your dog is likely to have fleas.

Your vet can tackle fleas safely and effectively but you will also need to treat your house thoroughly with an appropriate spray to prevent them coming back.

Prevention is much easier than dealing with an established infestation, so make sure your puppy and all other dogs and cats in the house are regularly dosed with a good-quality flea treatment. Ask your vet if you need advice on which to choose.

Lice

Lice are very small parasites but can usually be seen by the human eye. Watch out for little white dots among your puppy’s hair too – these are lice eggs. You will probably also notice your puppy scratching intensely and his or her coat may look dry and patchy.

The simplest and most effective treatments come in the form of ‘spot-on’ drops – ask your vet for advice, especially if your dog is still very young. Some infestations will require more than one treatment.

Mites

These tiny parasites are usually spread by direct contact to the skin. Watch out for vigorous scratching and scaly, flaking or inflamed skin.

Washing bedding and grooming equipment regularly can help prevent the spread of mites. If you suspect an infestation, your vet can easily treat your puppy with an insecticidal spot-on.

Ticks

Ticks are blood-sucking parasites that can attach themselves to your puppy’s skin when you are walking him or her in long grass or in woodland. It’s important to remove ticks promptly as they can cause an abscess and pass on diseases, such as Lyme disease.

Removing ticks safely is harder than it sounds and is best done with a tick-removing tool as otherwise the head can remain embedded in your dog’s skin. Your vet can help you with this and recommend an appropriate preventative treatment – these are usually in the form of a ‘spot-on’ preparation.

Worms

Every puppy is susceptible to worms, which are passed on from their mother though the milk or placenta. You won’t normally see an adult worm, although a tapeworm segment is sometimes spotted wriggling around a pup’s bottom.

Types of worms include:

  • Roundworms and tapeworms – these live in the gut and can cause irritation and diarrhoea. You might also see your puppy rubbing its bottom on the floor or ground.
  • Lungworms – these live in the respiratory tract and can be very serious. Dogs that eat slugs or snails and chew grass are susceptible.
  • Hookworms – these can be dangerous as they steal nutrients from your puppy and can lead to anemia or spread to the lungs in heavy infestations.

Worm-related disease can pose a risk to humans, too, particularly among children. Roundworms, for example, can be contracted by accidentally ingesting the parasite’s eggs from soil containing the faeces of an infected animal, and can – in very rare cases – cause sight loss.

Prevention is key for your puppy and he or she has probably been receiving monthly worming, but at six months old should now be ready to move to the usual adult regime of a treatment every three months.

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