In This Chapter
- Battling internal worms
- Banning bugs and other external thugs
Ahost of creepy-crawlies are looking for a free lunch and a cozy condo, compliments of your Chihuahua. Some prefer camping under a tent of hair; others want to set up housekeeping indoors and homestead in the intestines, bowels, and even (horrors!) the heart. In this chapter, I unmask these intruders and tell you how to protect your dog from parasitic invasions.
The dictionary defines a parasite as an organism that relies on another living thing for its survival but contributes nothing to the host organism. That’s true as far as it goes, but many parasites do contribute something in a negative sense — they hand their hosts an array of afflictions.
Parasites that live inside their hosts are called internal parasites. Those that stay on the skin are called external parasites. For example, worms are internal parasites, and fleas are external parasites.
Just Say “No Way!” to Worms and Other Internal Bugs
Don’t be embarrassed if your Chi gets intestinal worms. No matter how carefully you look after her, she can still become infested with them. Heartworms, however, are a different story. These deadly dependents are preventable, so if your dog is unlucky enough to be diagnosed with them, someone screwed up. Here’s the poop on the nasty critters that may try to munch on your Chi.
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquito bites. As the worms mature inside the dog (a process that takes about six months), they migrate to the large blood vessels of the lungs and eventually to the heart where they reproduce, blocking blood flow. Heartworms grow so big that as few as two can kill a Chihuahua. A single heartworm can grow up to 14 inches long.
Many dogs die without showing symptoms. Prevention is the only defense, and it must start as soon as you get your Chi and continue all her life. If you acquire her as a puppy, ask your veterinarian to put her on a heartworm prevention program and then stick to it without fail.
Even after she starts preventative medication, your Chi still needs an annual blood test for heartworms. Why? Because prevention is the best thing going, but it isn’t 100-percent perfect (and neither are we, the people who have to remember to give our dogs pills). In fact, if you slip up for any reason, you should have your Chi tested before resuming her monthly prevention program. Why? Because if a dog already has heartworms and takes preventative medication, the combination can be fatal. In fact, if you acquire her as an adult dog, your vet must give her a blood test before prescribing preventative medicine.
What if you acquired your Chi as an adult and she tests positive? Now that’s a real bummer. On the plus side, you caught it while she’s still breathing — and where there’s life, there’s hope. You can have plenty of hope if you caught the problem early. Treatment needs to start immediately. Unfortunately, the procedures to rid a dog of heartworms are dangerous, although less dangerous than the deadly worms. Many (but not all) dogs survive the treatment. Good luck. After your dog is heartworm free, rely on preventative medication to keep her that way.
Roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms — yuck!
Many puppies are born with roundworms, and some get hookworms and/or roundworms from their mothers’ milk. In fact, your Chi can pick up one of several species of worms, including hookworms and whipworms, when simply out for a walk. She may even ingest a tapeworm while nipping at a flea that suddenly sprang from the grass and landed on her well-groomed back, because fleas play host to tapeworms. So what’s a dog owner to do?
Prevention through maintaining clean quarters and the quick removal of internal parasites are the best policies. Prevention works best if start as soon as you get your puppy. In addition to vaccinating your Chi (see Chapter Visiting the Vet
) and putting her on a heartworm prevention program, your vet also needs to examine her stool to find out if she has intestinal parasites. After she checks out negative for worms, take a stool sample to your vet at least twice a year (three times the first year). That way, if one comes up positive, you’ll get rid of the new worms before they become overwhelming and endanger her health.
The symptoms of roundworms, whipworms, tapeworms, and hookworms are similar:
- Dull eyes
- A rough, dry coat
- Weight loss despite an enormous appetite
- Diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
- A big belly (all the time, not just right after eating)
Most dogs have only two or three symptoms; others totally lose their appetites when harboring worms. Occasionally, a dog may show no symptoms at all but then suddenly becomes severely anemic from a heavy infestation. Hookworms, for example, are bloodsuckers and can kill a dog as tiny as a Chihuahua puppy within weeks.
Don’t try to diagnose and worm your Chihuahua by using over-thecounter medications. Many symptoms of worms also are signs of other serious illnesses. Not only that, but different worms demand different treatments. The amount of medicine is determined by your dog’s weight, and medication is downright dangerous if misused.
On the bright side, getting rid of intestinal worms is a routine veterinary procedure. If your vet discovers that any of these worms are living inside your Chi, he or she may give her a shot or prescribe medication and schedule a follow-up treatment. Don’t overlook or reschedule the follow-up visit, because timing is important.
Giardia are found in lakes, ponds, and other outdoor water sources. Chihuahuas seldom contact Giardia because the protozoans (onecelled microscopic organisms, not worms) are most often ingested by thirsty hunting dogs and dogs accompanying backpackers — not comfort-loving critters like Chis. However, your Chi can ingest Giardia by an act as simple as lapping water from a puddle.
After a dog ingests them, Giardia chew on the inner lining of the small intestine. Naturally, this creates irritation, which is accompanied by the following:
- Stools coated with mucous
- Weight loss
If you travel with your dog, Giardia should convince you to carry water from home. But dogs can pick up the protozoa from licking an affected dog’s stool (yes, sometimes dogs do yucky stuff like that). If your Chi gets diarrhea after eliminating at highway rest stops, let your vet know that Giardia is one possibility. Prompt treatment is important.
Coccidia, another protozoan, lay their eggs in animals’ stools. And dogs sometimes get up close and personal with poop. After they get inside your Chi, coccidia line her intestinal tract, causing
- Watery stools and bloating
- Straining during elimination
- Weight loss
- Streaks of blood on the stool
Is there any good news? Yes. Coccidia are easily diagnosed by your vet and quickly eliminated when treated early.
It is best to pick up all feces as soon as your puppy goes to help prevent your yard from becoming contaminated and a constant source of reinfestation for your puppy.
Controlling the External Pests: Fleas, Ticks, and Mites
Fleas, ticks, and a mixture of mites are the most common external parasites that annoy and endanger dogs. In the following sections, I explain what you need to know to keep your Chi safe from a variety of bloodthirsty bugs.
Defeating the terrible tick
I give you the good news first. If you walk your Chihuahua in the sunshine during the warm months and keep her away from tall grass and profuse plants, chances are she won’t pick up any ticks. Why? Because like Dracula, these bloodsuckers prefer darker areas — especially the woods. But occasionally ticks appear in unexpected places, and because they’re so dangerous, your best bet is to check your Chi’s body daily from late spring through the end of summer. It takes several hours for a tick to do its dirty work, so if you remove a tick quickly, your dog probably won’t come down with any of the dire diseases ticks can cause.
Dogs seldom get all, or even half, the symptoms that a particular disease can cause. If you’ve found a tick on your dog within the last two weeks, just one or two symptoms of a tick-related illness warrant an immediate trip to the veterinarian.
Scanning for and removing ticks
When checking for ticks, pay special attention to your dog’s head, face, neck, and the inside of her ears. Those are a tick’s favorite lunch counters. Another choice spot is between the toes. But a tick can cling to any part of a Chi’s body, so run your fingertips everywhere — up and down her legs, under her pits, and down her back, sides, belly, and tail. It sounds like a big job, but you can easily complete the whole exam in a minute. Now aren’t you glad you chose a Chihuahua?
If you find an attached tick, don’t try to pull it off by hand. The safest way to remove a tick is with a preparation recommended by your veterinarian. If you’re far from the veterinary clinic and don’Tip have a preparation on hand, remove the tick with a pair of tweezers. Some pet shops sell special tweezers just for that purpose, but unless you live near the woods and have to remove ticks often, the tweezers in your medicine chest will do just fine.
Grab your tweezers and follow these steps:
1. Separate your Chi’s hair so you can see where the tick embedded itself in her skin.
The embedded part is the tick’s head.
2. If you have rubbing alcohol handy, put a drop of it right on the tick.
That makes some ticks release their hold.
3. Use your tweezers to clamp down as close to the head as possible and pull it out slowly.
Ideally, you’ll remove the entire tick, head and all.
4. Put a dab of alcohol on your Chi’s skin where the tick had been.
Uh oh. You did everything right, but the tick’s head broke off and stayed under your pup’s skin. If that happens, play it safe and call your veterinarian for further instruction.
If you’re sure you removed the tick within an hour or so of when it attached itself, your dog is probably home free. But it’s a good idea to keep the tick in an escape-proof container so your vet can identify it in case your dog shows signs of sickness. Watch her closely for the next couple weeks and take her to the vet if something seems wrong. You’ll know the signs after you read the next few sections. They tell you all about the many miseries ticks carry.
Tick Bite Paralysis
The American dog tick (sometimes called the Eastern wood tick) and the Western Mountain or Rocky Mountain wood tick all inject toxins into their hosts through their saliva. Early signs of sickness are weakness, fever, a change in the dog’s voice, vomiting, dilated pupils, and lack of coordination. The clinical signs usually disappear gradually after you remove the tick. But if the tick remains undetected, paralysis, difficulty breathing, and death may follow these symptoms.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a deadly disease brought to your dog by the same ticks that can cause paralysis. It occurs when a tick injects a particular protozoan under the skin. Signs of this disease are a high fever, a tender abdomen, water retention (look for swollen legs and feet), blood in the urine or stools, nosebleeds, difficulty breathing, and general weakness. Symptoms may not show up until two weeks after the tick bite.
Transmitted by the deer tick, Lyme disease occurs when a carrier tick transmits a particular bacterium into a dog (or person) through its saliva. An estimated 50 percent of deer ticks are carriers. These ticks are also more difficult to find on your dog because they’re small. The good news is that they must be attached for nearly two days before infection can occur.
A dog with Lyme disease may become lame, depressed, weak, and feverish; suffer painful joints; and be reluctant to move. If you live in a rural area known for having a large population of deer ticks, your veterinarian may suggest vaccinating your Chihuahua against Lyme disease.
Lyme disease has currently been diagnosed in 47 states. It also attacks people, so check yourself and your dog after a walk in the woods. A preventative vaccine for humans is available and is probably a good idea if you live near a wooded area. Ask your doctor about it.
Fleas are no circus
I wish I could offer you a quick and easy method for getting rid of fleas, but unfortunately, eliminating fleas isn’t easy . . . not even with all the new formulas that are marketed every year. The truth is, fleas quickly become resistant or actually adapt to insecticides. That’s why new flea dips, powders, and sprays appear on the pet shop shelves annually.
With a dog as small as a Chihuahua, using any over-the counter flea remedies isn’t a good idea. Instead, discuss your Chihuahua’s lifestyle with your veterinarian, and he or she will prescribe a safe and effective program to keep fleas from moving in on your Chi.
With fleas, prevention is key and earlier is better. Those bad little buggers are capable of producing another generation every 21 days, and one female flea can produce thousands of eggs in her lifetime. Not only that, but fleas itch something awful, often cause an allergic reaction that turns into an oozing hot spot, and can carry tapeworms. Dogs react to fleas in a variety of ways. A dog with a fleabite allergy is miserable with just one or two fleas on her, but another dog may have a severe infestation without even bothering to scratch. Chances are, your Chi will let you know when she has fleas. Most Chihuahuas scratch themselves silly when fleas bite them.
The only way to control fleas is to eliminate them not only from your dog, but also from inside and outside your home . . . and from your vehicle if your dog travels with you. Fleas don’t live on dogs all the time — they just feed on them and ride around for awhile. Then they hop off and camp in the carpet, dog bed, or grass until they get hungry and want to hitch a canine ride again. The best way to terminate fleas is to interrupt the fleas’ life cycle through an insect growth regulator (commonly called a flea tablet) that your dog eats once a month.
You can incorporate this tablet in with the monthly heartworm preventative. If you live in a heavily infested area, such as Florida, a monthly tablet and a monthly topical in combination is the most effective way to prevent your home from becoming a flea hotel.
Flea tablets are prescription medicine, and insecticides for the home and yard must be used with great care — especially when you own the smallest of all breeds. Don’t try to come up with a flea management program on your own. The use of more than one product often is necessary, and your vet knows which ones can be safely used at the same time and which products become toxic when combined. And if you’re like me and prefer natural products, tell your vet.
An easy test for fleas in the house
Finding out if your home has fleas is easy. Fill a large, shallow pan with water and add some liquid dish soap. Before retiring for the night, put the pan on the floor and place a desk lamp right next to it with the light cocked over the water. After you go to bed, and the lamp is the only light on in the house, fleas will jump at it, fall in the water, and sink immediately, because dish soap makes the water soft. If you find drowned fleas in the pan the next morning, you know your home has been invaded. Some people set this flea trap every night during the summer and say it’s a big help in controlling fleas.
Your vacuum cleaner is your best friend when fighting fleas. Besides inhaling the adults, it also sucks the eggs and larva right out of the carpet and upholstery. Vacuum every room often when fighting fleas. Just be sure to throw the vacuum bag away when you finish.
A myriad of microscopic mites, including one commonly called walking dandruff, feed on the skin, blood, and even hair of a dog. Your Chihuahua may never be bothered by any of them, but it’s smart to be familiar with the symptoms. Chances are, your dog doc will do a skin scraping (it’s painless) to find out what kind of mite is making Manchita miserable. Don’t try to diagnose and treat skin problems yourself. Some of them have such similar symptoms that even your vet won’t be sure how to proceed without a test, and each mite demands different medication.
Saracoptic mange, sometimes called scabies, is caused by crabshaped mites that literally get under your dog’s skin. After burrowing in, they sip your Chi’s blood, mate, and lay eggs. These mange mites make her itch. Symptoms are relentless scratching, tiny red bumps, and patchy crusted areas. Visit your veterinarian before she suffers hair loss or a bacterial infection. Scabies responds to medication.
Follicular or demodectic mange
Commonly called red mange, follicular or demodectic mange is caused by a different type of mite. Because itching is a symptom in some dogs but not in others, look for small, circular, moth-eatenlooking patches. They’re usually found on the head, or along the back, sides, and neck.
In young dogs, red mange often is stress related. Anything that produces anxiety — such as going through the hormonal changes of adolescence or staying in a boarding kennel for the first time — can trigger a minor outbreak. So, do mites crawl around with miniature blood pressure cuffs so they can tell when a dog is stressed out? Not exactly. The truth is, most dogs have some of these mites on them all the time and never have a problem. But when they’re under stress, their defenses break down and the result is a small patch of demodectic mange (sometimes called juvenile mange) — easily treated by your veterinarian.
Generalized outbreaks of red mange are another story. If your Chihuahua ever gets a case of mange that covers much of her body, have her spayed or neutered (if she isn’t already). Never breed a dog with a generalized case of mange — the disease and its misery can be passed on to the puppies. Severe cases of demodectic mange are treatable, but the treatments are much more intense, may include antibiotics, and should be performed at the veterinarian’Technical Stuff office.
Does your dog continuously scratch her ears or shake her head? She may have ear mites. These critters move into the ear canal and proceed to eat the outer layer from the walls of their cottage (yup, that’s your dog’s skin). Wipe gently inside her ear with a cotton ball. If it comes out with rusty-brown or blackish goop on it, your Chi has mites. These bugs are easily treatable when caught early, so go see your veterinarian.
Yes, the walking dandruff mite has a real name. If you want to remember or pronounce cheyetiella, may the Force be with you. But to return to earth, does your Chi try to turn her body into a circle so she can nip and nibble along her spine? Does she lie on the rug upside down and wiggle around in an effort to scratch her back? Have you noticed an abnormal amount of flaking when you groom her? Those signs all point to walking dandruff, a mite that devours the skin along a dog’s spine (and sometimes other places, too). Your veterinarian can get rid of these itchy critters, but it may take several treatments. You’ll have to clean all your dog’Technical Stuff bedding and favorite rugs, too.
by Jacqueline O’Neil