The most common intestinal parasites in dog and cats are roundworm, hookworms, tapeworms, whipworms, coccidian, and giardia. The internal parasites live in the intestines of the animal and are passed on through the feces and through the placenta in some cases and through the mother’s milk. Most parasites are found all over the country and can be passed on to us. Prevention and treatment of internal parasites is important in the overall health of your pet and in some cases our health.
Roundworms are the most common parasite of dog and cats. It is passed into the environment in the stool. Animals and people become infected by drinking infected water or by licking the soil or licking dirt off fur or paws. Hookworms spread the same way in the environment, people can be infected by walking barefoot over infected soil/sand/dirt. Roundworms and hookworms can be spread to the puppies or kittens either through the placenta or through the milk. Tapeworm infections come from the dog or cat eating an infected flea or lice (external parasites). Tapeworms look like dried rice segments stuck to the fur around the rear end. Whipworms, coccidian, and giardia are all picked up from ingesting soil or water infected with the parasite as well.
Each parasite causes different symptoms in pets. The most common symptoms of an intestinal parasite are diarrhea, bloating in puppies and kittens, weight loss, poor hair coat quality, scooting, and seeing parasites in stool or stuck to fur. In my experience many animals have no symptoms depending on which parasite it is and how high the worm burden is.
Prevention consists of making sure to pick up animal feces as soon as possible as to not contaminate the soil. Avoid places where their might be a large amount of feces from untreated animals (i.e. the dog park). For people, prevention consists of good hygiene, washing hands after touching animals or soil, and making sure to wear shoes when outside and then take them off and not walk through the house with shoes on.
Treatment consists of various deworming agents depending on which parasite(s) is(are) present. Different parasites require different tests and dewormers to treat them. Most parasites can be found in a fecal sample from your pet. Depending on what part of the life cycle the parasite is in you may or may not be able to detect them. Giardia is notoriously hard to find and may require more than one fecal sample to find it. It is good to have your pet’s feces checked at least once a year by your veterinarian; twice a year depending on which part of the country you live in and what risk factors your local environment provide. There are so many different dewormers on the market it is impossible to speak to each one of them. They can come in liquid or pill form and can kill one or many parasites. Since fleas are the major cause of tapeworms, having adequate flea control is important in preventing future tapeworm infections. Most heartworm (blood parasite) preventions contain dewormers for some of the most common intestinal parasites so they are being dewormed on a monthly basis. There are other dewormers that can cover most of the intestinal parasites but there is no one magic pill to get rid of all of them. Giardia and coccidia require their own individual treatments. Puppies and kittens can get parasites through the placenta and/or milk so having a deworming protocol from your veterinarian is very important for the safety of the mother and the babies.
There are many, many, more parasites out there that can also infect animals. That is why a fecal sample to your vet is vital to identify which parasite your pet has and that will determine which dewormer is right for your pet. If you just go buy a “wormer” off the shelf at the local feed store, there is no way to know if you are treating the right parasite or if there is more than one parasite present. Prompt treatment will help your pet feel better, lessen internal intestinal damage, and decrease the chance of your pet infecting you or another animal. Good hygiene and prompt removal of feces from the environment goes a long way to help prevent everyone from getting intestinal parasites.
M. H. Archer, DVM
Loveland Veterinary House Call