Donkey being examined by vet
Donkey being examined by vet

What is a Parasite?

You may have heard the term ‘parasite’ mentioned before, but knowing what they are and how detrimental they can be to animals is something different altogether. In this guide, we will take you through: what is a parasite, some of the most common types and how they can affect animals – both domestic and working.

What Do Parasites Do?

Parasites are organisms that live on, or in, another living thing (a host), feeding on them while they are still alive. While the parasite can get all it needs from the host, unfortunately for the host animal, having a parasite does not benefit them in any way. In some extreme circumstances, some parasites can eventually cause their host to die if untreated.

Types of Parasites

Some common parasites include:

Donkey being examined by vet


Tapeworms are flat, intestinal parasites that live in the gut of mammals. While smaller animals such as cats and dogs can get tapeworm from accidental ingestion, animals like donkeys can get tapeworm from consuming contaminated pasture.

What Do Tapeworms Do?

Some small tapeworms may not cause any immediate distress. However, larger ones can cause discomfort for infected animals, along with obstruction, weight loss and diarrhoea.

How to Get Rid of Tapeworms

Managing worms is fundamental to any animal’s health. It is vital to keep any parasites such as tapeworms under control to ensure animals’ health and welfare. This is even more crucial for working animals who are heavily relied upon as sources of income in many communities, and need to use a large amount of energy for work.

Getting rid of tapeworms in animals is doable, but it does depend on the life cycle of the tapeworm. Using a wormer under the direction of a vet can be one of the quickest methods to deal with tapeworms. However, you will need to know the animal’s weight to get the correct dose as too low a dose will not effectively treat the worms you are targeting.


These are small parasitic insects that live under larger animals’ fur or hair, laying eggs and feeding on their skin. They move and spread between animals when they come into close contact with each other.

What Do Lice Do?

Animals affected by lice will experience extreme itching. It can sometimes be so severe that they rub themselves raw.

How to Get Rid of Lice

Controlling lice can be challenging especially when multiple animals are kept in the same area. But it should be done as soon as possible to prevent any sores caused by intense itching.

Most types of lice can be killed with licensed products; however, clipping and bathing animals can be an effective alternative to chemicals.


As the name suggests, lungworm is a parasite that affects the lungs in donkeys and other equines. It is a more common parasite on wet grazing ground. Ingested larvae penetrate the intestine wall and migrate to the lungs, where they develop into adults. Lungworms mature within 2-3 months, growing up to 8cm.

What Do Lungworms Do?

When present in animals, lungworm can cause breathing difficulties and loss of appetite, while more severe infections can also block airways, resulting in a fatality.

How to Get Rid of Lungworm

Lungworm larvae can live in the ground for a considerable amount of time, so pasture management such as poo-picking and cross-grazing can both help reduce the spread and infection.

Donkey being checked by a SPANA veterinarian.

How Can You Minimise The Risk Of Parasites?

Managing the environment is crucial to helping reduce the risk of parasites spreading and thriving within animals.

Most working animals will serve as hosts to a parasite within their lifetime. Although there is always the option to treat the infection, you still need to manage the environment in which the animal lives to help reduce the chances of initial infection.

Ways to Control the Environment

  1. Reduce the number of animals kept together – Minimising the density of animals in the same space can help reduce the amount of contamination within paddocks.
  2. Rotate or move paddocks – Rotating or completely moving paddocks helps let the land rest and breaks the lifecycle of some parasites.
  3. Cross-graze other animals – Grazing sheep or cattle in the same land can help slow down the spread of any parasitic larvae.
  4. Keep track of any treatments that you may use on animals – As with people and antibiotics, some parasites can develop an immunity to certain treatments, such as worming. Keeping a record of what has been administered gives parasites less opportunity to become immune to the treatment’s effects.
  5. Clean up and remove poo from fields at least twice a week – Not only does this reduce contamination in fields and paddocks, but it also interrupts the lifecycle of parasites such as worms.

How Does SPANA Help?

At SPANA, we know that even the most treatable infections can be fatal for working animals without proper care. Our vets are a lifeline for many working animals. Each year, we administer hundreds of thousands of vital veterinary treatments from our fixed and mobile clinics worldwide – but this is only a fraction of the need.

Like many animal charities, we rely on only your donations to continue providing care and assistance. Get involved in the work we do at SPANA and donate today to help support working animals around the world.

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