What to Know About Intestinal Parasites in Dogs and Cats
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.
Can any of these parasites be transmitted to humans?
Both hookworms and roundworms are zoonotic, meaning they could be transmitted to humans. Hookworm larvae can penetrate human skin, causing redness and itching. Roundworms are even more dangerous because the larvae can migrate through organs such as the eyes, brain and liver, causing significant damage.
How can I prevent intestinal parasites from infecting my pet?
All puppies and kittens should have a fecal examination and be treated for roundworms and hookworms even if the results are negative. This is because eggs can be shed intermittently (and therefore may not show up on the day the stool is examined) and because puppies and kittens can be infected very early in life.
Adult dogs and cats should have their stool examined every year (or, for some pets, every six months) or any time they have diarrhea or gastrointestinal signs.
Because eggs of some parasites are passed in feces and can contaminate the soil for years, it’s important to clean up after your pooch. Daily removal of feces from your yard can decrease contamination of the soil, as well as the chances a pet or human will pick up parasites.
Some parasites, like roundworms, can infect dogs and cats that kill and eat mice and other small prey (if the prey animal is infected). Preventing your dog or cat from hunting can help reduce his exposure to some of these parasites.
Some heartworm preventives also target hookworm, roundworm, tapeworm and whipworm infections, so while you’re preventing your dog or cat from getting heartworms, you can also protect him from getting some of the other worms that may be in his environment.
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