Parasite Paradise and Birthday Celebrations
I love the animals, groupies and all…
Column by Alice Clark RVN Photograph by Ivan Rojas Urrea
Today, the tick count totals six. Six crawling little blood-sucking creatures that I have picked off the dogs during our morning walk, luckily before they have managed to attach themselves and potentially pass on any nasty diseases. Much to his indignation, I’ve yet to check my boyfriend, Jack, for signs of arachnid inhabitance. I am quite laid back when it comes to this type of parasite, probably due to school playtimes spent building dens in the New Forest, where I managed to acquire more than my fair share of ticks. In fact, my mum used to claim that she used the dog’s tick tweezers more for me than she did for the dog.
More recent press coverage has highlighted the dangerous side of ticks, especially in relation to Lyme Disease in the UK and Ireland and Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis for pets that travel abroad. Whilst these diseases pose a risk to our pets, they can also be transmitted to humans, so I’ll let Jack off for squealing like a girl when I extract the little blighters from our pooches. When it comes to ticks, I’ve heard of many old fashioned methods to remove them, although it’s important to remember a few things for both humans and animals:
- Covering the tick in substances such as essential oils, alcohol and Vaseline may work, however it encourages the tick to regurgitate, making infection and disease transfer more likely.
- The safest way to remove a tick is with a purpose made tick hook or tick tweezers. The trick is to twist, not pull the tick so that it remains intact. A tick head left behind is more likely to cause reaction and infection.
- Once removed, keep an eye on the area where the tick was attached. If there is any swelling, rash or redness, contact your doctor or vet.
I once served a sheepish looking gentleman who had been sent from the chemist’s next door as he had a tick himself – I didn’t ask where. When I showed him the tick remover tool to purchase he looked at it and then at me, with a confused expression. I suspect he was expecting me to remove it for him. No, thank you very much, I don’t do humans!
So, ticks I can deal with, other parasites on the other hand, I am not so chilled about. There really is not much worse than cuddling a super fluffy patient all day, only for a colleague to tell you after you’ve smooshed your face all over it that it has fleas, or mites, or worms.
As with most areas of pet care, prevention is much better than cure. There is an extensive array of parasite treatments, so talk to your vet or vet nurse about which treatments suit your pet. Flea infestations are notoriously difficult to eliminate and you often need a multi-product approach.
It’s also important to note how often the treatment needs to be used, as keeping your pet up-to-date with treatment maximizes protection. A little known fact is that worming your pet does not prevent gastrointestinal worms such as roundworm and tapeworm, it only treats them for any burden they carry at that time, so a worming regime is imperative, especially if you have young children.
Despite the expansive selection of everyday parasites we see in practice, I’m sure many veterinary nurses would agree with me that there is nothing more feared, more disgusting, than the bizarre Hippoboscidae. Otherwise known as flat flies or louse flies; these squat parasites hide in the plumage of birds (most commonly pigeons) and suck their blood. They bide their time, until a kindly member of the public brings the said sick bird into the practice, then they furiously buzz off of the bird and around your head before diving into the nearest gap in your clothing. I’m telling you, nothing clears a room – or makes you remove your clothes – as quickly as a flat fly can. Been there, done that, removed the t-shirt.
In other news, Flo is now a two-year-old. I’m not sure I can still refer to her as a puppy now, although she has so many other nicknames we needn’t worry. We celebrated in style by camping in the garden, of course. Jack had wanted to take the dogs camping, however as neither Etty nor Flo had ever experienced camping before I had visions of them causing havoc in a campsite, so this was a test run.
It was all going fantastically well with our rather spacious tent (complete with airbed) set up in the paddock, with beautiful views, evening sunshine and a barbeque. Surprisingly the dogs settled down in the tent and even though Etty insisted on sleeping between Jack and myself on said airbed, we were rather comfortable. At three o’clock in the morning, we are abruptly awoken by Flo barking and the neighboring horses thundering around their field. To add to the early morning assault on our senses, there were also flashes of lightning, at which point we decide that it would be safer to retreat inside the house.