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5 Parasites and Diseases to Watch Out For

Guest Post by Allivet

Let's say you're going canine cruising (aka "on a dog-friendly road trip"). Whether you're heading to Lake James State Park or Mt. Mitchell, your best friend will have a blast--and perhaps come home with a muddy, wet coat.

Before you take your dog on the adventure of a lifetime, learn about some of the microscopic dangers that await in the Carolina mountains. (They could be more dangerous than bears!)

Here are five scary diseases and parasites to look out for--and what you can do to stop them from infecting your four-legged pal.

1. Leptospirosis

A common waterborne disease, leptospirosis is caused by the bacteria leptospira. It's found within lakes, streams and wet soil in the Carolinas. It's spread through animal urine.

The dangers of leptospirosis can be severe. As Katie Gibson, DVM, writes, "leptospirosis can enter your pet's body through the eyes, nose, mouth or cuts on the skin," and it can be life-threatening if left untreated. Most often, dogs recover well with antibiotics and supportive care.

Symptoms are vague, but can include diarrhea, fever, vomiting, decreased appetite and general weakness. As an owner, be aware of the risk of leptospirosis, and act immediately if you suspect your dog has been infected. Dogs can infect humans with this.

2. Blue-Green Algae

Although the name sounds cool, blue-green algae (aka cyanobacteria) can be very dangerous to come into contact with. It's dangerous when a blue-green algae harmful algal bloom occurs, which are over-growths that can produce harmful toxins in lakes and other bodies of water. This typically happens during times of bright sunlight (summer) and when the water isn't moving much.

According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the "algae can cause skin irritation or respiratory irritation" and "some blooms of blue-green algae can produce chemicals that are toxic to animals and people who drink the untreated water." So, symptoms range from rashes and skin irritation to respiratory failure and death.

Look for blue-green algae before letting your dog go play in the water. It can look reddish-brown or even bright-green (or just blue-green, as the name suggests).

3. Giardiasis

The Mayo Clinic states that giardia infection is "one of the most common causes of waterborne disease in the United States," as the "parasites are found in backcountry streams and lakes."

If you head into the wilderness with your dog, giardia is something to be aware of. Your dog can ingest it by drinking from a puddle or stream. All it takes is a contaminated water source.

Symptoms include diarrhea and dehydration. The good news is that giardia isn't as serious as some of the other parasites and diseases on this list. Typically, antibiotics and a dewormer are enough to cure it.

4. Cryptosporidiosis

The parasite and disease are both commonly called "crypto" among experts. In simple terms, cryptosporidiosis is a disease caused by parasites of the genus cryptosporidium. The primary symptom is diarrhea, which will be easy to notice.

The issue is that infection can be hard to stop. As the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services notes, "crypto may be found in soil, food, water or surfaces that have been contaminated with the feces from infected humans or animals."

Beyond diarrhea, symptoms your dog may also experience when infected include fever, vomiting and dehydration. Generally speaking, with proper treatment, your dog won't be sick for more than a week or two with cryptosporidiosis.

5. Campylobacteriosis

Caused by campylobacter, campylobacteriosis is the reason for common food poisoning. 

When out in nature, dogs will drink water contaminated with the bacteria. Although it usually affects puppies that are six months or younger, you should still look out for it if your dog is older. Symptoms include diarrhea, high fever and loss of appetite.

What's reassuring to know is that, for the vast majority of cases, your dog can get better with antibiotics or naturally expel the bacteria. To find out if your dog is infected with campylobacter, a stool test is done.

How to Prevent and Kill These Parasites and Diseases

In a perfect world, there would be a method for preventing your dog from getting sick from these parasites and diseases. Unfortunately, there's not. But you can take preventive measures and prepare yourself. This way, you not only greatly reduce the chance of your dog getting infected, you also reduce the likelihood of a negative outcome if infected.

In short, here's what you can do:

  • Get the right vaccines: For instance, a DHLPP distemper vaccine includes protection against leptospirosis (note the 'L' in the name of the vaccine). There is also a vaccine for giardia.
  • Look into at-home treatments: Heartgard Plus prevents canine heartworms in dogs by eliminating the tissue stage of heartworm larvae for a month.
  • Know the water: In general, it's not common for a dog to get ill after swimming in a stream or lake in North Carolina, but it does happen. A good rule is, if you wouldn't swim in it, don't let your dog swim in it.
  • Recognize symptoms: If your dog is ill after being out in the wilderness, get to a vet immediately.
  • Know where the closest vets are: Before you go on a trip, look up where the closest veterinarians are.


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