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, TVMDL 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 their 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 mosquitos. However, each of these well-known nuisances have 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. Infection is caused when a cat or dog ingests an infected flea. Though infected animals are usually asymptomatic, infection may present as gastrointestinal issues and sometimes tapeworm segments, which resemble grains of rice, can be seen in the feces or in pet bedding.
Though it’s important pet owners mitigate the risk of fleas, Borst encourages pet owners to stay especially vigilant when it comes to ticks and mosquitos.
“My honest concerns for spring are ticks and mosquitos,” Borst said. “Ticks have the ability to transmit a slew of diseases, such Lyme disease, Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever, Rock Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesia spp., Anaplasma spp., Ehrlichia spp., Hepatozoon spp., and so many more.”
As for mosquitos, they serve as an intermediate host to a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis. 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 heartworm.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize that when a dog contracts heartworm disease, it takes six months to detect. So, if a dog is bit by a positive mosquito in May, microfilaria can’t be found until at least November,” Borst said. “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. Chagas disease can cause sudden illness or may turn into 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 or feces 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 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 tvmdl.tamu.edu or call one of the agency’s full-service laboratories in College Station or Canyon.