Although parasites in dogs and cats are tiny and most often out of sight, these nasty critters can wreak havoc on your pet’s health and, if left untreated, can cause life-threatening illnesses. Learn the signs and symptoms to watch out for and how to protect your cat or dog from these critters.

Most common parasites in New Zealand

A parasite is a living organism that uses a host – such as your dog, cat or even you – for survival. There are a number of parasites to watch out for in New Zealand. Here are the most common ones and how to protect your pet from them.


If your pet is scratching, it may have fleas! Fleas are tiny insects that cause itching, skin irritation and allergic reactions. Flea treatments should be given every month of the year to prevent and control flea infestations effectively. Ask your vet for the best advice on flea prevention for your pet.


There are various tiny parasites that can bother both cats and dogs. Each parasite can cause different problems and will need specific treatments. Some of the common mites to keep an eye out for in your pets include ear mites (which can present as intense rubbing and scratching of the ears), scabies (which causes redness, inflammation and itchiness of the skin) and demodectic mange (which often presents as patchy hair loss).

Mites are highly contagious and can easily pass from pet to human – so it’s important to seek advice and treatment from your vet immediately if you suspect an infestation.

Intestinal worms

Intestinal worms live in the intestines and feed on the nutrients that your pet consumes. The most common intestinal worms in Australia are roundworm, tapeworm and hookworm. Left untreated, they can cause weight loss, vomiting, diarrhoea, anaemia and even death. Pets usually become infected with intestinal worms by ingesting the eggs of the parasites, which can be found in contaminated soil, faeces and other sources.

Aim to deworm your puppy or kitten every 2 weeks until they’re 12 weeks of age and then continue once a month until they’re 6 months of age. Depending on the product, continue every 3−6 months for the rest of their life.

Vet tip: Intestinal worms can be transmitted from pets to humans, so it’s important to wash your hands after touching your pet or picking up their poo.


You may have heard of giardia in humans, but did you know your pets can get this nasty gastrointestinal parasite too? Typically transmitted through the ingestion of contaminated drinking water, food or faeces, giardia can cause diarrhea, foul-smelling stool, weight loss, dehydration and abdominal discomfort and bloating.

If your vet suspects your pet has giardia they will perform a stool test and prescribe medication to treat the parasite.

Signs and symptoms of a parasite infection

Some key signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Intense scratching, biting, and licking their skin
  • Patchy hair loss or irritated skin
  • Visible parasites on their skin, bedding on in their faeces
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Bloating, particularly puppies and kittens
  • Weight loss
  • Anal scooting
  • Sudden paralysis or difficulty breathing (pets who show these signs need emergency veterinary treatment straight away).

If you notice any of these signs or suspect your pet may have a parasite infection, visit your vet. With regular check-ups, preventive measures, and good hygiene, you can protect your pet from these pesky parasites.