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Parasite prevention: before your dog steps outside, know your enemy.

Anyone following my articles knows I strongly recommend health checks in both spring and fall, and before beginning exercise and conditioning programs. Our objective is to be certain our dogs can safely handle the workload by making sure that they are in good general health, their shots are up to date, they are free of pests and our veterinarian agrees they are at a safe weight and body condition.



In other words, we must be sure they are prepared to handle the added stress as we step up training and exercise, anticipating an enjoyable and rewarding hunting season ahead.

This time I'd like to discuss just one aspect the veterinarian will focus on during your dog's upcoming exam--parasites. Most of us understand parasites have a negative effect on our dogs' health. We know the names of several of these nasty critters, and we are aware that we should periodically treat to remove them from our dog's system, as well as guard against reinfestation. But do we really know what we're up against, or how serious the problem might be?

In case the answer is no, I have information to share about these creepy crawlers that live on or inside our dogs, competing for nutrients and causing discomfort, disease and infection.

Because gun dogs have a particularly high risk of contacting parasites and at the same time are less able to afford the added burden, the following should be helpful.

* EXTERNAL PARASITES Fleas are our dogs' No. 1 concern. They are brown, wingless insects, less than an eighth-inch long, that travel from one host to another. They're among the leading causes of skin problems in dogs and can also carry diseases.

These parasites can also act as intermediate hosts to some tapeworms. Fleas become infested after eating tapeworm eggs while on wild animals or other dogs. Then, by some means, these fleas travel to our dogs and are ingested when the dog attempts to eliminate the annoyance by biting or licking. The dog in turn becomes host to tapeworms.


Fleas move readily from one host to another, including man. Eggs are laid loose in the animal's hair and usually fall off and hatch in four to seven days. Any animal passing through the infested area may pick up this newly developing larvae. Under suitable conditions, the larvae enter the pupa stage and spin cocoons in bedding or on the dog, in which they change to adult fleas within a week and start gnawing.

Fleas may lie dormant inside the cocoon for several months when no host is present. It's easy to see why hunting dogs are continually reinfested and that effective control requires treatment of both the dog and his environment.

Breaking the flea's life cycle can take three months or more, so it's something we have to stay after all year round. Clearly, prevention is our best option. To kill fleas on the dog, use only a flea product recommended by your veterinarian. These come in topical or pill form. Carefully read the container labels for specific directions and recommended frequency of treatment.

To rid your house or kennel of fleas, use products for dogs that are especially designed for combating fleas. These come in sprays, bombs and foggers. Clean kennels and discard old bedding, then vacuum and spray or dust before replacing. After vacuuming your house or the kennel, it's best to burn the vacuum bags.

Ticks are another parasite common to hunting dogs, and probably the most difficult to control. Most common are the brown dog tick and the American dog tick, yet the little deer tick that carries Lyme disease gets lots of press lately.

All ticks are blood-sucking parasites and have four stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, nymph and adult. Adult females, engorged with blood, detach from the host and lay eggs in the environment. The eggs hatch into larval form in about two weeks; the larvae then attach to a host and feed until distended with blood and drop to the ground, where they molt.


Nymphs are formed in about a week and once again attach to a host for some time, then they return to the environment where after several weeks they molt to become adult ticks. Both adult male and females feed on a host. This complete life cycle is variable and may take more than a year.

Females of both brown and American dog ticks are approximately a half-inch long when engorged, while the males are only around an eighth-inch long. The deer tick is only the size of a pin head and is easily overlooked.

The brown dog tick is known to sometimes carry a parasite of the red blood cells called Babesia cans, and the American dog tick can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. The deer tick, of course, is known to carry Lyme disease.

Aside from the possibility of diseases, ticks suck many times their weight in blood, so heavy infestation can cause anemia. Along with that, the bites can cause skin irritation and secondary infection, so we should do our best to prevent infestation.

It's ironic but thanks to Lyme disease, there are now some very effective topical and pill-form products on the market designed specifically for dogs. Even so, look dogs over from head to toe when changing fields or quitting after a day's hunt. As with fleas, proper treatment of the premises is essential for control of ticks. Use insecticides designed for ticks, and read and follow instructions for safe use. Do not spray directly on dogs, and be certain sprayed areas are completely dry before allowing dogs back in runs.

* INTERNAL PARASITES Roundworms are probably the most common internal parasite of dogs, and their life cycle demonstrates why they can be controlled but not eradicated. When roundworm eggs are shed in the feces of infected dogs, they aren't infective, but require days to weeks in soil to mature to the infective stages. This is also true for other parasites, which is one reason why frequent removal and disposal of waste is essential.

These worms can infect pups even before birth by way of the placenta, and after birth through larva in the dam's milk or from eggs passed in the feces of the mother. Lactating females can in turn be reinfected from the puppy's feces while cleaning up after them. So every effort must be made to keep everything as clean as possible. De-worming the bitch before breeding goes a long way in cleaning up this environment.

In the small intestine, roundworms compete with the dog for nutrients, resulting in stunted growth in pups and general poor health in all dogs. Through examination of fecal material, your veterinarian can diagnose roundworms and prescribe a medication schedule for removal and prevention.

Heartworms also present a serious health hazard. They are usually found in the pulmonary arteries and in the right ventricle of the heart. The adult female can measure 10 inches and live up to seven years while producing millions of microfilariae. As the mosquito is an intermediate host, it is the primary means by which heartworms are transmitted. In the case of heart-worms, your veterinarian will perform blood tests for diagnosis and preventative schedule.

Hookworms can be very destructive, too. Puppies with heavy infections can die from acute blood loss before three weeks of age. Adult dogs with mild infections may show no symptoms, but those with severe infection exhibit anemia, dehydration, weakness and listlessness. Adult hookworms measure less than an inch, have ridges and are slightly bent in a hook-like shape. They attach themselves to the lining of the small intestine and suck blood from their host. As they shift feeding sites, they leave bleeding ulcerations that may become infected.

Tapeworms require an intermediate host such as fleas or rodents to complete their life cycle. Symptoms are often minimal, and infection is often detected by visually observing rice-like, egg-containing segments in feces or around the dog's anal area. Although a number of effective medications are available, prevention is your best bet. Control fleas, rodents and consumption of uncooked meat.

Whipworms, like roundworms and hookworms, don't require an intermediate host to complete their life cycle. They pass directly from one dog to another through egg-infected food, feces or water. Once ingested, the larvae hatch in the small intestine and penetrate the lining to remain up to 10 days, then migrate to the large intestine and complete development to the adult stage. Within 90 days, the infected dog begins to pass eggs and the life cycle is complete.

It's believed that whipworms feed on blood and tissue fluid, resulting in anemia. Abdominal discomfort may be noted as a result of constipation and vomiting, or you may see diarrhea. The stool tends to be bloody with mucous. Weight loss and dehydration may also accompany severe infections. Again, diagnoses and treatment should be handled by your veterinarian.

Although we have only looked at the primary culprits, the message is loud and clear.

While we depend on our vet for diagnosis and treatment, the ball is really in our court when it comes to controlling parasites, and it all depends on regular checkups, consistent preventative care for our dogs and sound kennel-sanitation practices.
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Author:West, Bob
Publication:Gun Dog
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 23, 2011
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