Creepy, crawly, icky, eww

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tis the season of scary stuff, but at a veterinary clinic, we see creepy stuff every day.

Animals bring in all kinds of pests. Fleas and ticks don’t like humans and are easy to feel and remove.

When a wounded animal shakes look out for flying maggots that land on the skin or hair. Lice come in two forms, biting and chewing. Dog, cat, goat and other animal lice do not infest humans, but sometimes they do get “lost” for a while.

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Guardian Animal Medical Center’s personal favorite (NOT) is a relative of the sheep ked.

A sheep ked is a large hairy wingless fly that infests, well, sheep. A winged cousin infests birds of prey like hawks, owls and falcons. They are host adapted to remain on the bird in power dives of up to ninety miles an hour.

To avoid detection, they will try to scurry into noses, ears or any other orifice. Hiding quietly in clothing, they can be found hours later–when you least expect it!

Unseen, but more common for most of us, most untreated puppies and kittens have hookworms and/or roundworms. In our pets, these worms cause anemia, impactions and sometimes death in puppies and kittens.

Bad if you are the pet, but in humans, worms are nightmarishly bad.

Young animals get the larva or baby worms while in the uterus or from the mother’s milk. Infected adult pets shed eggs into the soil and grass.

These eggs hatch out into larvae. The larva then hangs out in moist soil waiting to be eaten or find some skin to burrow through.

In the dog, the larva moves through the liver and lungs to where it is coughed up and swallowed.

Once in the intestines, the adults mate and lay more eggs that are passed out with the stool. Humans that walk barefoot or lay in moist soil can pick up the larva.

The dog and cat hookworms cannot live in humans and only cause an intensely itchy human rash that lasts for a few weeks, but it is intense in the extreme. (Human hookworms do exist, but are mostly in the tropics.)

Carnivore roundworms are more serious in humans. Instead of the normal migration through the liver and the lungs, the roundworms seem to get lost in human hosts.

This aberrant or not normal migration results in the larva being found in the eyes, spinal cord or brain of the human.

A six to ten inch worm migrating through any of these tissues is not good!

Accidental ingestion of another parasite, Echinococcus multilocularis, is deadly for unintended hosts.

The tiny tapeworm causes huge parasitic tumors, usually in the abdomen, but sometimes in the lungs, brain and other organs. By the time it is fully grown, it can be wrapped around other organs so that surgery is not an option.

This never seemed like fun and is the sole reason that any food or drink set down on our fecal station is trashed immediately.

Icky, itchy, creepy, yet sometimes life saving, parasites are part of a job I love.

MJ Wixsom is a veterinarian at Guardian Animal Medical Center