Parasite prevention is very important, not only for your pet, but also for you and your family. In addition to making your pet ill, certain parasites can be passed from your pet to you and your children. These parasites are called “zoonotic” parasites. Human infection from zoonotic parasites can cause systemic illness and even blindness.
Dogs and cats infected with zoonotic parasites contaminate their surroundings by passing eggs or larvae in their feces (waste). Because pets will pass feces anywhere, they can contaminate a large area very quickly. These eggs and larvae are resilient and can survive in areas such as parks, playgrounds, and homes for years.
Children are more vulnerable to infection than adults as they play on the ground, in dirt, and in sand boxes, all of which may potentially be contaminated. Children are also more likely to put dirty objects in their mouths.
For more information on parasites, please visit the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) website at www.petsandparasites.org.
The good news is that preventing parasite infection in pets is easy.
How do I prevent contamination and infection of parasites to my pet and my family?
- Have puppies and kittens de-wormed regularly by your veterinarian.
- Start and keep your pet on a preventive program that treats and controls parasites.
- Treat your dog with heartworm preventative monthly. This medication will de-worm your pet every month for three of the most common zoonotic parasites that can be transmitted to you and your children. It will also protect your pet from heartworm disease (more on this later).Deworm your outdoor cat at least 4 times yearly and deworm your indoor cat twice yearly. Cats that go outside are particularly at risk for parasites, so deworming is needed more often. Deworming medication can be picked up at our office and is usually less expensive and more effective than products sold over the counter.Have a fecal sample analysis run on all dogs and cats every 6 months to ensure that they are parasite-free. Identification of infective parasites by fecal analysis also ensures that we are dispensing the appropriate deworming medication. All parasites do not respond to the same medications.
- Learn to recognize and avoid possibly contaminated soil, sand, plants, and other objects. Teach your children to do the same.
- Keep play areas, lawns, and gardens around your home free of animal waste.
- Wash your hands after handling your puppy or kitten until they have been de-wormed properly and repeatedly.
What are the most common parasites I need to worry about?
Fortunately, three of the most common parasites can be prevented in dogs by giving monthly heartworm preventative. They are roundworm, hookworm and whipworm:
Roundworm: Many puppies and kittens are born with roundworms and they are easily picked up from contaminated soil or passed to puppies and kittens from their mothers. Roundworm is a common cause of diarrhea in young animals and can cause vomiting as well. If left untreated, roundworms can cause serious problems for puppies and kittens. Sometimes the worms themselves are vomited up by your pet, which can be alarming as they can be quite large. Very heavy infections can lead to pneumonia as the worms migrate, and if there are enough worms, the intestine can become obstructed. Roundworms can be transmitted to you or your family directly from your pet or from contaminated soil. Human infection with roundworm can cause serious health problems. It is important to wash your hands after touching your puppy or kitten until they have been dewormed at least 3 times.
Hookworms: Hookworms are parasites that get their name from the hook-like mouthparts they use to attach to the intestinal wall. They are only about 1/8″ (3 mm) long and so small that it is very difficult to see them with the naked eye. Despite their small size, they ingest large amounts of blood from the tiny vessels in the intestinal wall. A large number of hookworms can cause anemia. This can be a problem in both puppies and kittens. A puppy or kitten may become infected when it swallows hookworm larvae or when the larvae penetrate the skin of the pet and migrate to the intestine. Puppies and kittens can also become infected through their mother’s placenta before birth or through their mother’s milk. Symptoms include pale gums, diarrhea, and weakness, which are common signs of anemia. Puppies and kittens can also experience significant weight loss, bloody diarrhea, or failure to grow properly. Hookworms can also be transmitted to you and your family from your pet.
Whipworms: Whipworms are more commonly seen in puppies. Dogs become infected with whipworm by ingesting infective whipworm eggs in soil or other substances that may contain dog feces. Whipworms reside in the cecum, which is inside your dog’s body where the small intestine and large intestine meet. The signs of infection vary with the number of worms in the intestine. Dogs with small numbers of worms may have no signs of infection. More severe infections can cause bloody diarrhea, anemia and weight loss. If an infected dog is not treated, and the infection becomes severe, it can cause serious disease and even death.
Remember, the good news is that you can easily protect your puppy from roundworm, hookworm and whipworm by giving them heartworm preventative. You will also be preventing them from heartworm disease. Heartworm preventative is a chewable tablet given once a month, year-round, for the rest of your puppy’s life.
Your new kitten can also be protected from roundworm, and hookworm by using a monthly heartworm medication. This medication can also protect them from heartworm, fleas and ear mites.
Not all parasites can be prevented by the monthly products, however, if caught early, these parasites can be easily treated with medications. Performing a fecal analysis every six months will help to ensure that your pet is free from these intestinal parasites:
Tapeworm: Tapeworm is also a common intestinal parasite, and is easily transmitted by fleas and rodents. Tapeworms are long, flat worms that attach themselves to the intestines of your pet and can grow up to a food in length. A tapeworm body consists of multiple parts, or segments. Tapeworm infections are usually diagnosed by finding segments—which appear as small white worms that may look like grains of rice or seeds—on the rear end of your pet, in your pet’s feces, or where your pet lives and sleeps. A small burden of worms may not cause any signs of illness, however, active segments around the anal area may cause a pet to lick or “scoot” on the floor. In heavy infections, we may notice abdominal discomfort or nervousness and the pet may vomit.
Giardia: Giardia is a single-celled parasite that lives in your pet’s intestine. It infects older pets, but more frequently infects puppies and kittens. Puppies and kittens may become infected when they swallow giardia that is present in water or other substances that have been soiled with feces. This parasite lives in many different and often unexpected water sources. Your pet can contract the disease simply by drinking contaminated water. Symptoms include diarrhea, weight loss, abdominal pain and poor weight gain.
Coccidia: Coccidia is a single celled microscopic parasite that multiplies in the intestinal tracts of dogs and cats. Rodents are also carriers of this parasite. Coccidia is common in puppies and kittens and can be contracted from the infected feces of their mothers. Although most infections are the result of spread from the mother, this is not always the case. Any infected kitten or puppy is contagious to other kittens and puppies. The primary sign of a pet suffering with coccidiosis is diarrhea. The diarrhea may be mild to severe depending on the level of infection. Severely affected animals may also vomit, lose their appetite, become dehydrated, and in some instances, die from the disease. Coccidiosis is very contagious, especially among young kittens and puppies.