Common Pet Parasites in Alberta

Common Household Pets Parasites in Alberta

by Breah Russell

Spring has sprung! Warm weather and increased outdoor activities, especially visits to off-leash parks, provide the perfect environment for parasites to inhabit our furry friends. There are many forms of parasites that can live both on the outside (external) and on the inside (internal) of your pet. The effects of these parasites vary from pet to pet and can result in minor physical annoyance to potential death. The good news is, most of these parasites are easily treatable and in many cases preventable. So visit your local Veterinarian to discuss prevention and treatment options that can maintain your pets highest standard of health!

The following table provides a brief overview of some of Alberta’s most commonly found parasites that can live both on and in your pet, and most importantly, what can be done to prevent and treat these pesky pests!

Parasite About Effects and Treatment
Fleas (External) –        Fleas are the most common external parasite found in household pets.

–        Adult fleas only comprise 5% of the flea population. The rest of the population is still in immature form.

–        Fleas are dark brown, flat-bodied, wingless insects that are able to jump great distances.

–        In just 30 days, 25 adult female fleas can multiply to 250,000 fleas.


–        Fleas survive on blood meals from biting your pet.

–        If your pet has fleas, you may see the following symptoms: itching and scratching, biting and chewing, fleas or flea dirt on the skin.

–        Fleas can lay up to 50 eggs per day. Treatment of your pet is important for their comfort, but also because fleas can transmit other diseases. If eaten by your pet, fleas can result in tapeworms.

–        Ask your vet for an appropriate flea treatment.


Ticks (External) –        Ticks are small parasites that are usually found in brush or wooded areas.

–        Pets are normally infected by walking through these areas and brushing up against the tick.

–        Once on your pet, the tick will bury its head in your pets’ skin and feed on blood.

–        A female tick can lay up to 3,000 eggs and can live for more than a year without a meal.


–        There are two groups of ticks: hard and soft shelled.

–        All ticks are visible to the naked eye on our pets.

–        Be sure to check your pets when returning from wooded areas.

–        The sites most commonly affected are areas difficult to groom: head, neck, legs, and between the toes.

–        Removal is important as ticks can transfer disease to other animals and humans.

–        Ask your vet for an appropriate tick treatment.


Mange (External) –        Mange is a skin disease of dogs and cats that is characterized by severe itching, hair loss, scaling and sometimes scabbing of the affected skin.

–        Mange is very common in the coyote population, especially in the spring.

–        Lesions are typically found on the face, ears, and abdomen.

–        There are two different forms caused by different mites: sarcoptes and demodex.

–        Most cases occur in puppies and kittens, but can also occur in adults.

–        Mange is also transferable to humans, so if your pet is itchy, make sure to see your vet right away for an appropriate mange treatment.


Ear Mites


–        There are several types of mites that can live in your pet’s ear, but the most common are otodectes cynotis.

–        These eight-legged parasites feed on the oils in your dog’s ear canal.

–        Ear mites are highly contagious and are most common in outdoor cats.

–        They are often passed from pet to pet within the home environment.

–        An individual mite has a three week life cycle and is barely detectable by the naked eye.


–        Ear mites cause irritation and inflammation and can lead to more serious skin or ear infections if left untreated.

–        In some cases, the ear canal can become entirely obstructed by mite debris.

–        Excessive scratching and rubbing of ears, head shaking, brown waxy secretion, odor, inflammation, and obstruction of ear canal caused by debris.

–        Ask your vet for an appropriate ear mite treatment.


Heartworm (Internal) –        Heartworm is an internal parasite that lives in the bloodstream of infected animals and matures into adult worms within their heart and lungs.

–        Heartworm is passed by mosquitoes through infected bites and can occur in both dogs and cats.

–        The immature heartworm will live within the infected mosquito bite for up to several months while it is maturing into a larval form.

–        Once it is mature, it travels into the blood and then heart.


–        Mature worms in the heart of affected animals can reach up to 35 cm in length and can end up causing significant damage to the heart and lungs.

–        Symptoms of infection include coughing, exercise intolerance, labored breathing and weight loss.

–        However many animals do not show any sign of infection and if left untreated, heartworm can be fatal.

–        It is important to ensure that your pet is protected against heartworm during high mosquito season.

–        Ask your vet for an appropriate heartworm treatment.


Roundworm (Intestinal) –        Roundworm is the most common intestinal worm of cats and dogs.

–        It is acquired by eating infected stool, animals, dirt, or vegetation.

–        It can cause cysts in the body allowing pregnant dogs to pass the infection to their puppies in the uterus.

–        The larva can migrate throughout the body causing damage to internal organs or the brain.


–        A single worm living in the intestine of your pet can produce thousands of eggs per day which are spread through stool and can contaminate the area where they live.

–        Worm infestations are diagnosed with a simple fecal exam, and can be treated and prevented with regular deworming obtained by your vet.


Giardia (Internal AKA “Beaver Fever”) –        Giardia is caused by an organism that is carried by wild animals.

–        It is developed by consuming contaminated water, food, or feces.

–        Giardia prevents proper absorption of nutrients and damages the intestinal lining causing diarrhea, depression, or decreased activity.

–        Humans can also get a giardia and proper personal hygiene is important in homes where a pet is infected.


–        Giardia is difficult to completely eliminate from the environment.

–        The following tips can decrease this risk of giardia: wear gloves when handling feces, remove feces promptly and put them in a plastic bag, and limit access to common outdoor spaces where infected pets have been.

–        Eliminate any source of standing water: for puddles, containers with water, and fountains that are not in use.

–        Do not allow any new pets, especially young ones, to enter your yard or outdoor space until advised by your vet.

–        Giardia is diagnosed by fecal examination and testing, and treatment is available.

–        Metronidazole, an antibiotic, is a common form of giardia treatment.