What to Know About Intestinal Parasites in Dogs and Cats

Cleaning up dog waste
Eggs of some parasites are passed in feces and can contaminate the soil for years, so it's important to clean up after your dog.

Have you ever wondered why your veterinarian wants to check a sample of your pet’s poop? Well, a big reason is to look for evidence of parasites that could be living in your pet’s intestinal tract. Many intestinal parasites pose risks to your pet’s health and some can also pose a health risk to humans. Here's what you need to know about some common parasites and how to help protect your pet from them.

What are the signs of intestinal parasites?

Signs of parasites can vary depending on the type of parasite involved, the number of worms and the age and health status of the pet. Signs can vary from none to any of the following: constipation, diarrhea, flatulence (passing gas), lethargy, pale gums, poor growth rate in puppies and kittens, a potbellied appearance, scooting on the rear end, vomiting, weakness and weight loss.

What parasites commonly infect dogs and cats?

Hookworms —These small worms attach to the intestinal walls and ingest blood. Heavy infections can cause severe blood loss, anemia and pale gums. Pets can pick this parasite up from soil contaminated by hookworm eggs or larvae. Eggs ingested during grooming or licking develop into adult worms in the digestive tract, where they produce eggs that are passed out with the feces. When feces are left on the ground, the eggs contaminate the soil to potentially infect more pets and people. Hookworm larvae can penetrate the skin, so walking barefoot across the yard or playing in contaminated sandboxes or dirt can put children and adults at risk of infection.

Roundworms —Roundworms are one of the most common parasites found in the digestive tract in dogs and cats. Roundworms interfere with absorption and digestion of nutrients. Puppies can be born with roundworms, and puppies and kittens can become infected while nursing so it is very important to start deworming pups and kittens at a young age. This parasite's eggs are passed out with the feces and can contaminate the soil, so your pet could become reinfected.

Whipworms —Dogs can pick up this parasite, which is 1- to 2-inches long, by walking or playing in soil contaminated by whipworm eggs. Eggs ingested during grooming or licking develop into adult worms in the large intestine. Adult worms produce eggs that are passed out with the feces and can contaminate the soil. This parasite is rare in cats.

Tapeworms —These large, segmented worms may cause your pet to scoot on his rear end, and you may see segments of the worm in the feces or around your pet’s anal area. The immature stage of certain tapeworms can be carried inside fleas. So if your dog or cat has fleas and chews or bites, fleas can be ingested, leading to infection with tapeworms.

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