Dog Smelling Grass
Don’t let their size fool you: Internal parasites may be puny, but these tiny creatures can wreak havoc on your pet’s health. The most common internal pet parasites include heartworms, intestinal worms (like roundworms, hookworms and whipworms), and protozoan (single-celled) parasites like coccidia and Giardia. Left untreated, some of these parasites can cause life-threatening illnesses. Here are seven simple steps you can take to help keep your pet parasite free.

1. Consult your veterinarian.
Ask your veterinarian which parasites are a problem in your area. There are parts of the country where certain internal parasites are less of a concern and others where year-round prevention is imperative. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you what to watch for according to your geographic location, how these parasites can be transmitted to your pet and prescribe the most appropriate preventive products.

2. Watch for signs of illness.
Some pets infected with parasites don’t show any signs of illness. That’s why regular testing and prevention are so important. But when signs do appear, it helps if you know what to look for. Not all parasites cause the same disease signs in pets, but the most common signs include diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite or blood in your pet’s stools. Signs of heartworms may include coughing and difficulty breathing. If you observe any of these signs in your pet, consult with your veterinarian immediately to determine the cause.

3. Give your pet preventive medications.
The good news is that there are a number of simple-to-administer medications that can protect your pet from many of these internal parasites. Many veterinarians recommend giving these preventives year-round. The key is consistency, even if you’re on vacation. If you happen to miss a few doses, call your vet for advice.

4. Keep your yard feces free.
Good sanitation is one of the best ways to reduce your pet’s exposure risk to parasites. That means cleaning up after your pooch — all dog feces should be picked up from your backyard, since most intestinal parasites are spread through contact with feces. A fecal-contaminated yard can be a source of exposure for many months, since some parasites can live in the soil for a long time.

5. Have your veterinarian do a regular fecal check.
Every year (or for some pets, every six months) when you visit your veterinarian for your pet’s exam, bring a fresh sample of your pet’s stool. Your veterinarian can use this sample to test for parasites. Young pets are particularly vulnerable to intestinal parasites. If you’ve just gotten a new puppy or kitten, make sure you bring a stool sample along to the first veterinary exam. This will help get your pet off to a healthy start. If your pet was obtained from a breeder, the breeder should also give you a record of when the puppy was dewormed and what kind of medication was used. This is critical information that should be passed on to your veterinarian.

6. Don’t let your dog eat feces.
Since many parasitic worms are shed into an animal’s feces, eating poop is a prime way to pick up parasites. It’s important to prevent your pet from eating feces by either disposing of the waste immediately or taking your dog out on a leash when you are in an area where fecal matter from other animals may be accessible.

7. Don’t let your pet drink standing water.
Standing water is a prime breeding ground for a parasite called Giardia, which can cause severe diarrhea. Never let your pet drink from standing water or puddles and always provide a clean, fresh source of water for your pet to help prevent him seeking water elsewhere.

Protecting your pet from internal parasites is an important part of keeping him healthy and happy for life. All it takes is a little commitment on your part to help stop these tiny pests from bugging your furry friend.

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