We like to think of our homes as an island, and that we can leave the rest of the world behind with the shutting of a door. But the home is, needless to say, very much apart of the natural world. Its generally warm, cosy and dry habitat is the perfect breeding ground for millions of little organisms.
Many of these creatures are so numerous that they cannot be eradicated entirely, but their numbers can be brought drastically down. Others have no earthly place in the home, and hitchhike their way in. Often our pets are their ticket inside.
Everyone loves pets, but – like us – they aren’t without their share of parasitic organisms. Parasites are a fact of life, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fight them. Dirty and ignorant habits can “encourage” these creepy-crawlies to make themselves right at home, where they can multiply, and make us and our pets seriously ill.
Here is a short introduction to the worst offenders, and what you can do to stop them:
Toxoplasma is a microscopic parasite that can infect humans and pets, where it can cause a condition known as toxoplasmosis. It sounds like the stuff of science-fiction. In humans it has been observed burrowing into the brain, and sitting there apparently doing nothing, but in actuality it can subtly influence our behaviour and even personalities. In pets the condition can cause a loss of appetite, fever, breathing problems, seizures, and rashes.
There are two avenues for infection: eating raw, or undercooked meat (which is why the French are one of the highest-infected people on Earth), or – you guessed it – by hitchhiking on to the body via pets.
This parasite is perhaps the most difficult of all to ward off. It lives naturally in the stomach of cats and some dogs and passes out in their faeces. This makes a litter-tray or any poo hotspot a potential infection zone. Dogs can walk in their own droppings and transport the parasite with them on dirty paws.
The best way to fight toxoplasma is with vigilance. If your dog poops, quickly contain the droppings in a poop bag, and dispose of it safely and properly. Then quickly clean your dog’s paws and the site of the droppings. And of course, wash your hands properly. If you suspect your dog has toxoplasmosis, you may need to consult your vet, who will be able to prescribe antiparasitic drugs.
There are over 90 types of tick species indigenous to the USA. You are probably already of one deadly disease they can spread: Lyme disease, which can affect both humans and animals.
Ticks inhabit woodlands, and the most dangerous time for exposure is usually in the summer; and especially if your dog has been running around in long grass (or even in the garden). There’s no reason to keep them locked indoors forever, instead, if you have suspicions there are ticks about, give them a good looking over. Ticks are not one of God’s most beautiful creatures – they are fat and ugly things; and especially after a bloodfeed, and can often be found still latched onto the skin.
To remove the tick, take a fine pair of tweezers and clamp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and very gently pull straight upward. Pulling too quickly can be painful to your dog and can even spread infections further.
Most ticks cannot survive for long in the house – but one species can. The dreaded Brown Dog Tick can thrive and even breed in the house, where it can spread all sorts of illnesses that can make you and your pets very sick. Check your dog regularly, and keep the grass short and the trees and hedges well pruned in the summer to limit tick activity. If you suspect your dog has a tick-borne illness, contact your vet.
Cockroaches are drawn to any food left in the house, including pet food and general pet mess. They are often invisible in the day, preferring to retreat to any cracks and crevices in the house – where they can breed very quickly. If the food supply runs out, they will thank you by smearing their bodies over the ground they scuttle over, and by an increased shedding of their exoskeletons.
Unfortunately, cockroaches carry all sorts of diseases and this smearing spreads them like wildfire. Excess shedding can also trigger allergies in humans and in pets. These allergies contribute to a general feeling of unwellness, but the symptoms should subside once the infestation has been gotten rid of.
Cockroach infestations are spreading. Don’t encourage them into the house and be vigilant about your dog’s food bowl, and your own food. If you suspect you have a cockroach problem, you may want to call an exterminator.
This parasite thrives in contaminated or dirty water – and even has a microscopic shell to protect it from chlorine. In fact, in humans, it most commonly infects people who frequent public swimming baths.
Cryptosporidium spreads via dropping and urine, meaning it can contaminate local water sources readily and easily. For dogs and dog owners alike, do not drink water that you suspect may be contaminated. If on a walk, for example, try to resist allowing your dog to drink from puddles or ponds.
Infection from Cryptosporidium can make your dog very dehydrated and give it an upset stomach (which can spread it more). If you suspect your dog has this particular parasite, give it plenty of water and high-fibre food. Illness, though unpleasant, should go away after 3 days. But if not, consider contacting your vet for Crypto-fighting antiparasitic medication.
Whether beg bugs can bite pets is actually still a matter of debate, but there is increasing agreement that they can feed on cats and dogs as euphorically as they can on humans. On both pet and owner, bed bugs can leave swollen marks that can get infected, erupt into blisters, and even cause asphyxiation.
Ironically, bed bugs are a compliment to the cleanliness of a home. It is a common misconception that they only infest dirty places; rather, they love –and are a sign of – clean living conditions (and are increasingly common in luxury hotel rooms). They spread very easily and dangerously, however, and large numbers of them can generate a coriander-type smell.
To prevent bed bugs from becoming a problem, contain any items of clothing after staying anywhere that is not your own home. Wash the clothes on a high temperature (over 60 degrees Celsius) to kill any of their eggs, and hoover suspected infestation zones. If in doubt, consider calling an exterminator.
We don’t tend to think of mosquitoes as a menace to dogs – but in fact they love animal blood just as much as ours, and can transmit parasites such as heartworm and encephalitis to dogs and horses.
Mosquitos are common in the summer months and particularly at dusk, where they swarm to feed and breed. The danger lies, predominantly, in the garden. Protect your pets by making the garden a mosquito-free zone. Cover up any sources of open water, and remove rubbish (if any) where they might be encouraged to lay eggs. Turn off any unnecessary outsight lights and keep the doors and windows closed. Mosquitos often follow the light and it is common to see them ‘standing’ on the walls in the house of a late afternoon.
If you suspect your dog is ill, and that the cause is from a mosquito-vector infection, then you can buy over-the-counter medication at your local veterinary health store. If in doubt, as always, contact your vet for more information.
Most animals, and in particular mammals, are infested with microscopic mites. Often these mites perform an important function, such as eating up dead skin. The human face is home to at least two different types of mites. Dogs, also have their own relative species that live on their skin and roam through the fur.
But bad hygiene can cause an explosion in their numbers, and such overpopulation can trigger health problems. In humans, excessive face mites can cause hair loss, rashes, and a skin condition called rosacea. In dogs and cats, and even hamsters, too many mites can again lead to hair loss, along with head-shaking, itching, and excessive licking of the fur.
Luckily, you can easily bring the numbers down again by frequently grooming and washing your furry friends.
This article was written by Neil Wright of Pure Freedom, a UK-based company that manufactures window cleaning systems for professional cleaners.