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Once upon at time, pet parents living in California didn’t have to worry too much about nasty things like parasites and zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted from pets to people). However, new data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) shows increasing parasite populations in the West.

Mike Paul, DVM, executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council.


Mike Paul, DVM, executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council.

“When I was studying veterinarian medicine back in the early 1970s, heartworm and other common parasitic diseases were virtually non-existent in the West,” says Mike Paul, DVM, executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) who worked as a veterinarian in San Francisco for many years.

He says this is no longer the case as a result of a complex combination of factors. Temperate climates and changing landscapes (more irrigation and more moisture means more parasites), outdoorsy lifestyles, and the increasing number of people who travel with or who have relocated with pets (that are infected) to the West Coast from other regions are all contributing to the local rise in parasites and related diseases.

The CDC reports that about 14 percent of the total U.S. population is currently infected with Toxocara, or internal roundworms, contracted from dogs and cats. (Yikes!) A 2007 CAPC survey showed that less than one-third of pet owners treat their dogs and cats year-round for flea and tick control, even though these parasites can thrive all year long — indoors and out.

“Once a parasite gets established in a particular area it never goes away,” says Dr. Paul, adding that nearly 40 percent of coyotes in our state are infected with heartworm. Raccoons are also disease carriers. And as these animals’ natural habitats continue to merge with our own it makes sense that our pets (and us by extension) would be at greater risk for possible infection.

These statistics inspired Dr. Paul to “take the show on the road” to help increase awareness among pet parents about parasite-related diseases and how to prevent them. He and his “Parasite Education Road Show” of veterinarians and parasitologists (complete with its 33-foot-long RV emblazoned with images of dogs, cats and children) is traveling to seven cities in four states between now and July 11 to help educate pet parents and veterinarians about the prevention of parasites and related diseases in pets and people.

Taking the (parasite prevention) show on the road.


Taking the (parasite prevention) show on the road.

“My goal when I started this project wasn’t to panic people,” says Dr. Paul. “All of the recommendations we make are about common sense: ‘Don’t stick that in your mouth; Wash your hands.’ The usual stuff. Most people already know these things, they just don’t practice them because they think ‘It won’t happen to me.'”

Zoonotic diseases, although rare, can have devastating outcomes especially for young children (who are also the most likely to become infected because of their propensity to put everything in their mouths). The good news is that they can be prevented with good hygiene and year-round deworming and parasite control (no matter where you live) for our furry friends.

As part of the Parasite Education Road Show, the CAPC is hosting two FREE educational events in San Francisco this Sunday, July 5, at the SPCA Maddie Center, and on Monday, July 6, at Justin Herman Plaza.

WHAT: “Ask-a-Vet” Events

WHERE/WHEN: SF/SPCA Maddie Center (Sunday, July 5, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.), 250 Florida Street in San Francisco; Justin Herman Plaza (Monday, July 6 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.), 1 Market Street in San Francisco.

Originally Posted in SFGate


Find more helpful health tips about parasite prevention here.



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