Even though the weather is still cold, internal parasites may be snug as a bug inside your pet! One intestinal parasite can produce 100,000 eggs per day, which are passed in the pets’ feces and into your yard, where they can remain infective and pose a threat to your pet and even you for years to come.
A zoonotic disease is one that can be transmitted between animals and humans. Some of the intestinal parasites found in our pets are zoonotic, and can cause some potentially irreversible damage in humans.
There are a number of intestinal parasites that can infect our pets. Roundworms are an intestinal parasite that are zoonotic. In humans, the worm larvae can travel through areas where they are not meant to, including internal organs such as your liver, which is called visceral larval migrans, or through the retina in your eye, which can lead to blindness, and is called ocular larval migrans. Tapeworms are another zoonotic parasite. Hookworms are also zoonotic, and can be picked up through the skin (so don’t walk around barefoot!). Hookworms cause something called cutaneous larval migrans, which is a red rash where the worm is traveling through the skin. Whipworms and coccidia are two parasites that are not zoonotic. Giardia and cryptosporidium are two parasites that are rarely zoonotic. These parasites pose more of a threat to people who are immunocompromised.
Your pet can get an internal parasite from a number of different sources. Puppies and kittens can get parasites while in the womb before they are born, or through the milk while they nurse. Animals can get parasites from a contaminated environment, objects, food, or water. Your pet could contract a parasite if it is allowed to hunt and eat other animals, or if it has fleas. They can also get hookworms like humans, through the skin.
Signs of intestinal parasites can include vomiting, sometimes with worms present in the vomit, diarrhea, which may be bloody, worms or worm segments in the feces, ill thrift or lack of weight gain, potbellied appearance, anemia (pale gums), dehydration, and if a severe enough infection is present, even death.
So what can you do to help prevent these serious infections? Practice good personal hygiene. Clean up feces in the yard at least once a week, and empty the litterbox daily. Keep your child’s sandbox covered. Do not feed your pet raw meat. Use a preventative flea and tick treatment such as Frontline® or Revolution®. Do not allow your pet to hunt and eat other animals, and try to discourage wild animals from entering your yard. Use a monthly heartworm preventative such as Sentinel®, Interceptor®, or Heartgard® since these products also have a preventative dewormer.
Most importantly, have a fecal sample checked by your veterinarian. No deworming medication is effective against all lifestages of the parasite, and not all parasites are susceptible to all medications. For this reason, we here at Heritage Animal Hospital follow the recommendations of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) and recommend a twice yearly fecal examination for all pets.