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It is the duty of every pet owner to be aware of the different types of parasites that can infect your animal. Without this information you are not providing the best possible health care for either your pet or your family. Some pet parasites can cause serious problems, not only in the animal, but to humans as well—especially children. It is critical to keep your pet parasite free.

The common parasites in pets are divided into two classes, depending where they live. External parasites live on or in the skin. These include fleas, ticks and mites. Both fleas and ticks can bite humans, causing intense itching and even transmitting diseases. Fleas can carry bubonic plague and ticks are responsible for Lyme disease. Mites can also be transmitted to people, again causing intense itching.

Internal parasites can live in the stomach, intestines, heart and lungs. The aptly-named heartworm lives in the heart, and unless detected can cause debilitation and even death from heart failure if the infection goes untreated. Heartworms are more commonly found in dogs, but can also infect cats. They are transmitted through bites of infected mosquitoes. Fortunately, humans are rarely infected.

Common gastrointestinal parasites include roundworm, hookworm, whipworm and tapeworm. Some are proficient egg layers that pass thousands of microscopic eggs in the pet's stool, contaminating yards, playgrounds and parks. Roundworm eggs can easily be picked up by humans from playing in infected dirt and grass, and touching your mouth before washing your hands. In your pet, the parasites compete for nutrients and some feed on your pet's blood while attached to the intestinal lining. This can cause wasting, severe debilitation and even death.

Modern veterinary medicine has medications that can eliminate and prevent these parasites from ever being a problem for your pet and your family. The most important safeguard you can perform is to have your pet see your veterinarian for a wellness and parasite check. You may be asked to provide a fresh stool sample. Your veterinarian can explain the parasite problems in your specific geographic area, and will set up the necessary parasite-free prevention plan for your pet.