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Rochelle Campbell, DVM

Here in Florida, parasites are a constant problem for pets and their owners.  Our warm, moist environment is favorable for all types of parasites, including (but not limited to) heartworms, hookworms, roundworms and whipworms.

Heartworms are parasites that are spread by mosquitoes, which as we all know are extremely prevalent in Florida.  A mosquito will feed on a heartworm infected dog, then will travel to an uninfected, unprotected dog and "inject" larval stage heartworms into the uninfected dog.  As the immature larvae grow into adults, eventually they come to live in the pulmonary artery (the main vessel connecting the heart and the lungs).  The adults can live for years and can cause significant damage.  Dogs can experience coughing, exercise intolerance, anemia, fluid development within the belly and even death.  Cats can become infected with heartworms too, although diagnosing heartworms in cats is difficult.  Heartworm prevention medication given once a month is the very best way to keep pets safe from heartworm disease.  For those dogs infected with heartworms, treatment options are limited, costly and can occasionally cause severe side effects, so prevention is the best medicine.

Hookworms, roundworms and whipworms are intestinal parasites.  They are spread primarily through a fecal - oral route, as the eggs are shed in the feces of an infected animal.  These parasites can cause significant damage in the gastrointestinal tract.  Clinical signs of an internal parasite infection can include diarrhea, weight loss, vomiting and even anemia and death in severe cases.  Monthly heartworm prevention medications contain a dewormer so it is especially important to give this type of medication.  Hookworms and roundworms in particular can be transmitted to humans, so it is important to take precautions within your environment if your pet is diagnosed with these parasites.  Our animal hospital recommends a heartworm test and a stool test at least once every six months.  As always, regular vet check ups are recommended to keep your pet healthy and happy!