People aren’t the only ones who love to call Hawaii home—a multitude of biting, stinging, sucking, and chewing pests also delight in the warm, humid climate that is ideal for insect reproduction. But, if you understand the ins and outs of parasites that may infect your pet, you can help keep your entire family safe.

Know which parasites can infect your pet

Some of the most common parasites that may infect your pet include:

  • Heartworms — Heartworms can grow up to a foot long inside the large blood vessels surrounding your pet’s lungs and potentially enter the heart itself. While treatment is available for dogs infected with heartworm disease, no approved treatment is available for cats.
  • Fleas — Despite its name, the cat flea affects cats and dogs equally. In the past, fleas were known for spreading the plague, but now they are more a nuisance. However, some pets are allergic to flea bites and can explode in an itchy rash.
  • Ticks — Although the number of tick species is relatively low in Hawaii compared with other parts of the United States, the brown dog tick is still prevalent. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the most common tick-borne disease that your pet—and you—can contract.
  • Intestinal parasites — Roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, tapeworms, Giardia, and other intestinal parasites can make your furry pal miserable with diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and other gastrointestinal illnesses. Many of these intestinal parasites also can be transmitted to people.

Understand how your pet can pick up parasites

Understanding how your pet contracts a parasitic infection is key to reducing their risk. Each parasite transmits different illnesses in different methods to your pet.

  • Heartworms — A bite from a mosquito carrying heartworm larvae (i.e., microfilariae) can infect your cat or dog with immature heartworms. This parasite is transmitted only by mosquitoes, and cannot be passed from pet to pet.
  • Fleas — A handful of adult fleas can do incredible harm to an allergic pet and can rapidly reproduce and create a difficult-to-eradicate infestation. In addition, your pet can also develop a tapeworm infection when they groom off infected fleas.
  • Ticks — Ticks generally must remain attached to their victim for several hours to transmit disease, so prevent infection by always checking your pet thoroughly for ticks after you return indoors.
  • Intestinal parasites — Intestinal parasites are largely transmitted via the fecal-oral route, meaning from your pet ingesting infective feces, by licking their paws, grooming another pet, or directly eating stool. Your pet can also contract parasites through contact with contaminated surfaces, such as dirty water bowls or kennels. Some parasites live in water, while others can linger in the soil for months, which makes proper hygiene important for parasite prevention.

Learn how parasite prevention works in your pet

Parasite prevention comes in a multitude of forms to make administration easy. Depending on your pet’s lifestyle, risk, and ease of medicating, they may prefer a preventive in an oral, topical, or injectable form. Often, preventive products protect against multiple parasites, making comprehensive protection less complicated. For example, heartworm prevention may be paired with flea and tick prevention, and also contain an intestinal parasiticide.

Parasite prevention works in one of two ways—by purging the parasite at the time of administration or by providing a long-lasting residual effect. Typically, preventives eliminate heartworms and intestinal worms when they receive the medication, while flea and tick preventives last for a month or longer, depending on the product.

Reduce your pet’s parasite exposure

In addition to administering year-round parasite prevention, you can protect against parasitic infections in your pet by reducing their exposure. This can be achieved by:

  • Avoiding parasite habitat — Although Hawaii is a paradise for all species, try to avoid walking through prime parasite habitat. Ticks prefer thick brush and tall grass and weeds that they can climb to quest for their next meal, while fleas prefer moist, humid, shaded areas. Intestinal parasite eggs can survive in the soil for months to years, so they can be incredibly difficult to avoid, but you can minimize transmission potential by keeping to the center of the path when you walk with your pet through wooded areas, or by sticking to paved walkways.
  • Maintaining a clean yard — Parasites and their host species, including rodents, large mammals, and birds, can make their home in your yard, increasing your pet’s exposure. Dissuade wildlife and bugs from settling on your property by trimming your lawn short, picking up vegetative debris, and removing litter. Also, always pick up after your pet, as some intestinal parasites are infectious as soon as they hit the ground.
  • Checking for external parasites — After your pet returns from an outdoor jaunt, check them from nose-to-tail for external parasites such as fleas and ticks. Removing these pests before they attach and feed on your furry pal will prevent disease and an infestation from taking root in your home.

Worms, insects, and all manner of biting, stinging, and chewing pests can make your pet miserable at best, and seriously ill at worst. Protect your four-legged friend from parasites by discussing the best preventive options with our Kauai Veterinary Clinic team.