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Montana and Helena have many parasites, both internal and external, that can seriously affect the health of your dog or cat. Common hitchhikers in our Helena area include ticks, lice, mites, intestinal worms and heart worms. Due to our dry climate we see fewer fleas than other areas of the country, but they are in our area and affect our pets, too.

Most lice, mites and fleas are transferred from one animal to another by contact with bedding, crates, leashes, collars, harnesses, pens, kennels, bathing areas, walking paths or coming in direct contact such as pets meeting nose-to-nose through a fence.

Correct identification and diagnosis is key to choosing the proper treatment for parasites. Your veterinarian may perform a close inspection of your pet and take samples including hair, skin, and sticky tape samples from your pet for microscopic examination. Each type of parasite may be susceptible to different medications and dosages. We do not recommend over-the-counter medications as these are often ineffective, poor quality and even out-of-date or expired. Discuss with your veterinarian what high-quality brands they trust and dosing recommendations based on your pet’s exposure, health and lifestyle. 

Flea from a dog that played in the Helena Dog Park.

Flea from a Helena dog.



Intestinal Parasites

Roundworm, hookworm, tapeworm and whipworms are very common intestinal parasites of dogs and cats. Different types of intestinal parasites are transferred from animal to animal through feces or eating mice or other rodents, wildlife, cattle or horse droppings, and uncooked meats.Dogs and cats pass parasites and their eggs in their feces contaminating your yard, home and any area outside.


It is very rare but occasionally some of these parasites can infect humans, most often children who come in contact with fecal matter or contaminated soil. For this reason, it is required of all service animals to be regularly tested and dewormed for intestinal parasites.Cats that hunt for mice and birds or dogs that consume feces or wildlife should be dewormed regularly as planned with your veterinarian. If you’re unsure if your pet has been exposed to intestinal parasites your veterinarian can perform tests to determine if your dog or cat should be medicated with dewormer.

Tape worm vomited up by an indoor only cat.
Demodex mite under the microscope.

Demodex is a microscopic mite that burrows deep in to the hair follicle and causes hair loss, itching, and sometimes darkening of skin (hyper-pigmentation). Your veterinarian can take a sample of your pet’s skin by plucking hairs or gently removing some of the superficial skin layer for samples to view under the microscope (see photo).


Your veterinarian can prescribe chewable medications or periodic injections to treat your dog for Demodex over the course of several weeks. However, some dogs are genetically predisposed or perhaps immune compromised and therefore are more susceptible to Demodex. These compromised patients can progress and develop hair loss with skin thickening over most of their body without regular treatment.


Read about Scabbers, a genetically predisposed dog with Demodex, by clicking here. There you'll see what this looks like both before and after treatment.

Common symptoms of external parasites might include:

  • Itching

  • Hair loss

  • Crusted, flaky or scabbed areas on skin

  • Increased redness or patchy skin color

  • Bumps or raised areas

  • Chewing or licking especially feet, tail, back and sides

Ear mites are very common in our Helena area, particularly in young cats. Thick brownish or blackish discharge forms in the ear canals and cats are often seen scratching or digging in their ears. It’s also common for cats to develop scabs and crusts around the neck and under the collar by continual scratching with ear mites. Fortunately there are now easy medications that can be applied once and this will clear the ear mites completely. This is available only by prescription from your veterinarian.

Ear mite from a cat seen under the microscope.
Biting louse from a dog hiking on Mount Helena.

Several types of lice are commonly shared between dogs or between cats. Lice are intensely irritating and cause uncontrollable itching. Look carefully in the hair at the base near the skin and you often can see these tiny parasites without a microscope. In dogs we commonly see them on the face, muzzle and feet but can be found anywhere on your dog.


Treatment for lice usually involves a medicated bath to kill adult lice followed by medications for stopping the life cycle of the lice that will continue to develop from eggs and immature stages left around the home, bedding, yard and your vehicle from your dog. For treatment to be effective, medication must be used at least 2 months or more to prevent new adult lice from reproducing and beginning the entire cycle all over again. 

Ticks can carry a number of different diseases and are commonly found in our Helena area, even in small yards in town. Deer and other wildlife frequent many city areas, as well as in wooded areas, bringing with them a multitude of ticks that can expose your dog or cat to disease and illness.

Several products are effective at deterring ticks.  Ask your Alpine Animal Clinic veterinarian about available options for you.

Brown deer tick, carriers of disease.

Heartworm can now be found in Montana. Heartworm is carried from dog to dog by mosquitos and can be devastating. Prevention is key to protect the function of the heart, rather than try to deal with heart worm’s destruction. This is definitely an area where “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

It is important to be sure your dog is not positive for heartworm before beginning prevention, and the medications for heartworm are only available by prescription from your veterinarian. A quick blood test can tell if your dog has been exposed to heartworm, and your veterinarian can prescribe a product that is best for you and your dog.

Frequently, it is mistakenly assumed heartworm prevention is not needed during the winter, but this is false. Any time the temperature is above 32 degrees is an opportunity for heartworm to infect your dog. Our Helena area is wonderful with its many waterways and lakes, but it takes only the smallest amount of water, such as your dog’s water dish, to spread heartworm disease.


Ensure your dog is Heartworm-free with a quick, easy and inexpensive test at Alpine Animal Clinic, and get your dog protected today!

Positive Heartworm test from a dog that has never left Montana.

Positive heartworm test obtained from a dog who has never left Montana

Ear Mites
Demodex Mites
Lice & Mites
Intestinal Parasites
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