A window into Wagsmore Dogcamp's world of dogs

Tis the season for creepy crawlies!

on May 15, 2013

You and your dog are sharing a tender moment of cuddling on the couch, when you feel a little bump on top of her head.  Upon further investigation, you discover a tiny brown bug nestled up against her skin.  Instantly, you feel bugs begin to crawl on your own skin, and you get the sickening feeling that your house has become a fortress for an army of almost unseen parasites.  Spring is the time we start seeing an influx of parasites upon our furry friends, and hopefully we can help you keep your pet safe from the dangers that parasites can pose.


Close up of a flea

If you’ve heard that we don’t have fleas and ticks in Alberta, think again.  They have (unfortunately) made their most unwelcome arrival.  Fleas, the super jumper of the parasite world, have an icky habit of reproducing at a very fast rate, and the frustrating thing about them is they can live for up to a year in their cocoons, waiting for conditions to be ideal for their survival, before they hatch.  An adult female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day, and she will start laying eggs a mere 48 hours after emerging from her cocoon.  Fleas will favor the neck and tail area of a dog, and the symptoms will be severe itching, and possibly red, irritated skin.  Fleas can also bite people, leaving red itchy bumps, often in a line on the skin.  A flea is 1 to 4 mm long, and can jump up to 200 times its body length!  They are dark brown or dark red.  Fleas can also spread through dog to dog contact, such as dog parks or daycare environments, as well pass along tapeworms.

A tick before feeding on it’s host

Engorged tick

A nice hike through wooded areas and long grass can be a great way to exercise yourself and your dog.  Be careful though, because you both could pick up some extra companions along the way!  Ticks live by sucking the blood of their host.  They attach themselves by burying their head under the skin.  They will feed and grow in size as they suck the blood.  It’s very important when you pull a tick out, you make sure the entire insect is removed.  If you just pull out the body, some of the tick’s mouth parts can remain in the skin, leaving you or your pet at risk for an infection site.  Avoid methods such as burning the tick, covering it in petroleum jelly, or applying heat to it.  You want to remove it quickly and safely, whether it be on you or your pet.  Take a pair of fine tipped tweezers, and get the ends as close to the skin as possible.  Grasp the tick and pull upwards with a steady, gentle pressure.  Don’t yank, twist, or jerk the body of the tick, as this increases the risk of leaving tick bits underneath your skin.

Left: D. caninum egg packet, containing 8 visible eggs, in a wet mount. Right: Adult tapeworm of D. caninum. The scolex of the worm is very narrow and the proglottids, as they mature, get larger.

Tapeworms are a type of internal parasite that can make its home in Alberta pooches.  Tapeworms live in a canine’s intestinal tract, and the species that is most common in Alberta can grow up to 20 inches.  Symptoms of a tapeworm in a dog may include weight loss, a dull coat, diarrhea/constipation, excessive gas, and inflamed intestines.  You may notice the dog scooting his bum along the ground, attempting to relieve the itching tapeworm segments cause.  You may find pieces of segments within the feces of the dog, or around his anus.  The most common tapeworm in Alberta, the Dipylidium caninum, can be transferred by ingesting a flea or louse that is infected with tapeworm larvae.  When the segments are shed through the feces (the segments can contain 20-30 eggs each), they’re fed on by cat and dog flea larvae, as well as dog lice.  Then if that parasite is swallowed by either you or your dog, it can put you at a risk for this parasite.


Roundworms are another common internal parasite, especially common in puppies.  These worms can grow up to 7 inches and can be contacted in a few different ways.  Puppies can get roundworms in utero, and be born with them.  They can also be passed through the mother’s milk to the nursing puppies.  A dog can also ingest a small animal, such as a mouse, that’s already infected with the roundworm and it will continue it’s life cycle in the dog.  Dogs can also ingest roundworm eggs from the soil.  The eggs are very hardy, and can lay for a very long time, enduring even Alberta winters!  These worms can cause weight loss, diarrhea, and vomitting.  You may not see evidence of roundworms at all in your dog.  The best way to know is by taking a fecal sample to your vet.

Dog lice

Dog lice can be transferred from dog to dog and live on the skin of the dog.  Fortunately, these little guys are species specific.  You, your children, and your cats are safe from catching canine lice.  Lice can usually be found on the warm spots of your dog, underneath the armpits, collar, and in the groin region. There are two main kinds of lice, one sucking, the other biting.  Very slow moving, they’re easy to spot if you’re looking for them. They cause intense itching, and attach themselves to the skin to suck the blood.  The entire life cycle of the flea is spent on the outside of a dog.  An adult louse will lay its eggs (called nits) and attach them to the fur of the dog, where they will hatch. They will be small, light brown little spots under your dog’s fur.  You can feel them with your fingertips on short haired breeds, and they feel like little pin heads underneath the fur.


The last parasite we’ll go over today (but certainly not the last of parasitic inhabitants residing in Alberta) is a microscopic single celled organism called Giardia (also nicknamed Beaver Fever).  This parasite can be ingested from contaminated feces, water sources (lakes, rivers, swamps), or eating contaminated food.  Symptoms of a Giardia infections include severe diarrhea, often watery and may include blood, lethargy and weakness, and no appetite.

When it comes to parasite control, it’s so important to have a good relationship with your veterinarian!  Your animal care team will be able to help you implement and maintain a regular parasite control schedule for your dog, keeping him healthy and happy, free from any parasitic freeloaders.  Other ways to keep your pet safe from parasites are:

  • bring a fresh, clean water supply for your dog
  • monitor what your dog is eating and putting in his mouth when you’re out enjoying nature
  • maintain a regular parasite control schedule
  • regularly clean your yard of feces
  • check your dog over frequently for external parasites

Be very mindful of what parasite control methods you choose to use on your dog.  Solutions like flea and tick collars contain high amounts of chemicals and toxins which can be dangerous to both your pet and to children, and include ingredients that have been shown to cause cancer.  It’s important to talk to your vet to find out the latest and safest way to keep your pet safe!


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