When considering the term “home improvement,” we generally think of renovations and additions to our property. But as so many of us know, there’s nothing quite like the improvement that the bond between pets and their owners can bring a home. However, our furry friends can introduce more than just joy and companionship into our homes—they can bring parasites as well. These freeloaders use our cats and dogs as hosts and leech onto them for nutritional sustenance. What’s more, they can transmit serious diseases to both pets and owners alike. In this article, we’re going to take a look at some of the parasites most likely to affect your beloved pet as well as warning signs to look out for and treatment and prevention methods.


These little bloodsuckers are primarily found in grassy or wooded areas within warm, humid climates, where they wait patiently with outstretched legs ready to latch onto any potential hosts brushing by. (They do not actually climb and fall from trees as is commonly believed.) They burrow their mouthparts into the skin, and some even secrete a sticky substance to help them stay attached as they engorge themselves with blood. As unsettling as this is, the actual skin is typically only slightly irritated. It’s the potential for disease transmission that’s of most concern. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are the two for which ticks are most notorious, and both can be very dangerous to pets and humans alike. While your veterinarian can recommend tick control products and diagnose whether your pet has been afflicted with a disease, you can be proactive by checking your pet’s coat after each outdoors excursion (especially through tall grass or brush). Creating at least a three-foot-wide mulch buffer between your yard and any surrounding woodland is also an effective preventative measure.


The most common external parasite, fleas are tiny, wingless insects (unlike ticks, which are arachnids) with some of the best jumping abilities in the entire animal kingdom. As they feed upon the blood of their host, their bites can create awful skin irritation and discomfort. More disconcerting is that they can potentially transmit tapeworms if ingested. For the most part, a few flea bites is nothing so serious as to warrant an emergency trip to the vet, but a few fleas can turn into a major infestation in almost no time. Because of this, you’ll want to focus on prevention, and your veterinarian can again be of great help here. Aside from a myriad of flea prevention and elimination products, regular, thorough vacuuming of your home and washing of areas where your pet sleeps are generally the most practical ways to avoid a massive flea invasion.


Like ticks, these are arachnids, but they are microscopic and invisible to the naked eye. As an incredibly diverse group, they include:

  • Ear mites, which are easily detected since your pet’s ears will appear inflamed or irritated, and your pet will constantly scratch at its ears or shake its head. Although these mites are readily transmitted through social interaction between pets, they can be treated rather easily by your veterinarian. Moreover, they do not pose a threat to humans.

  • As the cause of mange, Demodex mites reside in hair follicles and the skin’s oil glands, and they create patches of hair loss in pets. Many pets are able to harbor these mites naturally, and their immune systems are able to keep them from becoming problematic. Thus, if mange symptoms are to appear, it will probably be early in your pet’s life. Fortunately, your veterinarian can easily test this and offer treatment options. If, however, your pet shows signs of mange later in life, this is indicative of a weakened immune system and possibly a more serious, underlying health issue.

  • Not to be confused with the human form of scabies, sarcoptic mange (also referred to as scabies) is caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite. Highly contagious, they channel into your pet’s skin and create awful irritation and itching. Especially prone to scabies are pets that have spent time at a shelter or boarding facility. Because the symptoms can be similar to those of other conditions, it’s difficult to diagnose scabies, and you should consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Also be aware that scabies can be passed on from pets to people, but since the mite cannot live for long on humans, it doesn’t pose much of a threat. Typically, as long as your pet is treated, you have nothing more than a slight, temporary rash to worry about.

The parasites described above literally only scratch the surface. Much more could be said about the world of internal parasites (heartworms, hookworms, roundworms, etc.), but since no one really likes to think of their cherished pup or kitty as a meal for nasty parasites, we’ll leave it here.

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Sources: CDC; The Humane Society; Pets & Parasites; VCA Animal Hospitals; VeterinaryPartner.com.

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