Many of our canine friends enjoy a day spent playing in the water. Whether they are splashing around a lake or a nearby pond, they may encounter some underwater critters along the way.
One of the creatures found in bodies of water around the world are leeches, many of which can hitch a ride on your pet’s skin. So should you be worried about the leeches your dog comes in contact with?
In this article, we’ll explain whether or not leeches are dangerous to dogs, and what you can do when your pup brings home a blood-sucking friend.
So Are Leeches Dangerous To Dogs?
Thankfully, most leeches do not pose a major threat to dogs. While they certainly can latch onto your dog’s skin and suck small amounts of blood, that’s about as serious as most of the scenarios get.
Many leeches will simply fall off your dog’s skin on their own, causing few complications in the time they use your dog as a host.
However, just like any other situation, there are always exceptions…
There have been reports of leeches attaching to certain parts of the body that can increase the risk of complications.
For example, cases have been reported involving leeches attaching to the roof of a dog’s mouth, as well as to the lining within a dog’s nasal cavity.
These leeches are challenging to notice and promptly remove, increasing the risk of blood loss and other complications. There is also conflicting evidence on whether or not leeches transmit disease, likely varying on which part of the world your dog calls home.
While these scenarios can occur, leeches are still considered mostly harmless for your dog. Most leech encounters will not threaten your dog’s health, but it’s always best to keep potential complications in mind.
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Do Leeches Transmit Disease To Dogs?
This is where things get a bit tricky. There are experts that claim leeches to be one of the ‘cleanest’ blood-consuming parasites out there, as they do not transmit diseases as ticks or fleas would.
Some go as far as saying leeches are completely harmless, and that you should not worry when these creatures hitch a ride on your furry friend.
However, other sources state that leeches have been responsible for transmitting blood-borne pathogens to our canine friends.
These cases may be few and far between, but there are well-researched studies that document these occurrences.
What is likely happening is that experts are commenting on the specific leeches that typically inhabit their region.
While some areas may have leeches that are mostly harmless and ‘clean’, other regions may have leeches that carry infectious bacteria and viruses.
Because we cannot say that all leeches are safe and disease-free, it’s best to just seek your vet’s answer based on the leeches in your part of the world.
Will All Leeches Suck My Dog’s Blood?
Though we mostly hear about blood-sucking leeches, many freshwater leeches do not consume blood at all.
Some leeches stick to molluscs and insect larvae, never feeding on blood at any point throughout their life cycle.
There are over 600 species of leeches in the world, and blood-sucking friends only make up a percentage of them.
Will Leeches Cause Bleeding In Dogs?
In most cases, the bleeding from a leech attachment is what you will need to be the most concerned about.
Blood-sucking leeches not only consume your dog’s blood once they attach themselves, but they also inject an anticoagulant to help the area bleed more.
Though this is not always the case, there are some dogs that have experienced significant anemia as a result of a leech encounter.
This can occur if one leech goes undetected for a large amount of time, or if multiple leeches attach to your dog’s body.
It’s important to note that due to the anticoagulant that is injected into the area, these bite regions may also continue to bleed once the leech is removed.
Most times the bleeding will stop soon after the area is addressed, but there are always varying situations.
What Happens If My Dog Eats A Leech?
There is nothing to worry about if your canine friend eats a leech.
The leech should be easily destroyed by the acid in your dog’s stomach, eliminating the risk of them attaching themselves to any point throughout the digestive tract.
Leeches are not poisonous either, so there is no potential for toxicity when they are consumed.
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Can Leeches Cause Skin Infections?
Another risk to be aware of with leech exposures in dogs is the potential for infection when the leech is removed improperly.
Leeches often carry bacteria within their gut, all of which do not come in contact with your dog’s skin if the leech lets go without trauma.
However, when a leech is removed with force, this causes significant distress to the leech. The leech may then regurgitate the contents of their stomach into the wound on your dog’s skin, allowing the entry of bacteria.
When this happens, localized skin infections can occur.
This is why it is so important to gently remove leeches from your dog’s skin when possible.
How Do I Get A Leech Off My Dog?
When removing a leech from your dog’s skin, the goal is to prevent as much stress to the leech as possible. Any significant trauma can cause them to release gastric contents into the wound, increasing the risk of infection in the area.
The safest way to get a leech off your dog is by following the steps listed below:
- You will first need to find the leech’s mouth. You can do this by finding the end of the body that is smaller and thinner than the other half. The smaller end is the mouth.
- Place your finger on the skin directly next to the leech’s mouth. You will not be pulling the leech off, but rather preparing for a sliding motion next to it.
- Once your finger is placed next to the leech, slide your finger toward the mouth in an effort to break the seal of the suction from their mouth. Once you do this, the leech should quickly detach from the skin.
- Once the leech lets go of the skin, be sure to grab the leech quickly before it attaches to the skin again.
- Clean the wound thoroughly as soon as you remove the leech. If the area does not stop bleeding with firm pressure for 5-10 minutes, we suggest contacting your vet.
If you are unable to remove a leech from your dog’s skin, you can always reach out to your veterinarian for help. They can safely remove the leech in their office, as well as clean the area to prevent infection.
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It seems as if most leech encounters are harmless for your dog, but it’s always best to be educated on the potential dangers. Be sure to check your dog’s body if they have spent any time in water, as well as review the safety tips we discussed above on proper tick removal.