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What Are Worms & Intestinal Parasites?

And What Do I Do If My Pet Has Worms?

Zoonotic Parasite Prevention For Dogs & Cats

There are a host of parasitic organisms that your pet may be exposed to through a variety of environmental conditions.  The worst part is these parasites are also transmissible to you and your family!  Parasites that can be shared by pets and people are called zoonotic parasites, and are of great concern to your health, as well as the health of your pet.  There is no need for alarm, nor to avoid your treasured companion.  Understanding what these parasites are, and taking these steps to prevent them, can help ensure that you, your pet, and your family remain protected from these zoonotic parasites, and enjoy a lifetime of parasite-free wellness.

Fecal Analysis:  This is the first stage of diagnosing some forms of zoonotic parasites in your pet.  A Fecal Analysis takes a sample of your pet's poop, mixes it with specific chemicals, and then looks at the resulting solution under a microscope to see eggs and larvae of parasites that are too small to be seen by simple inspection alone.  Various parasitic worms and bacteria live in the intestines of pets, and are transmissible to people.  Puppies and kittens should have a Fecal Analysis done on a monthly basis starting at 6 weeks of age until at least 1 year of age.  Fecal Analysis also screens for parasites not treated by prophylaxis de-worming, and allows us the ability to prescribe appropriate medication to treat additional parasites.  Pets on a heartworm preventative medication once a month, year round, are also protected against a variety of parasitic intestinal worms, and require a Yearly Fecal Analysis to make sure the preventative medication is providing full protection.  Yearly Fecal Analysis also screens for parasites not prevented by a heartworm preventative medication.  Failure to detect a parasitic intestinal infection in your pet in a timely manner exposes your family to the possibility of getting parasitic intestinal infections themselves. 

A Fecal Analysis screens for the following four zoonotic intestinal worm parasites:

Roundworms:  Roundworms are the most common of the parasitic worms found inside a pet's intestines. Almost all pets become infected with them at some time in their lives, usually as puppies or kittens.  Your pet may be infected with roundworms from the time it is born because often the mother passes the worms to the baby while it is still in her body. Roundworms can also develop in a puppy or kitten after it is born when the puppy or kitten eats eggs from the environment, or drinks worm larvae (young worms) in the mother's milk.  Another way roundworms are passed is when roundworm larvae are present in the tissues of a mouse or another small mammal, and the dog or cat eats the animal.  Roundworm eggs can stick to fur, and pets that groom themselves or each other can ingest the eggs.

Preventing Roundworms In Pets:  Roundworms can enter your pet’s body in many different ways, so is essential to keep your pet's living area clean, bathe and groom them regularly, remove feces regularly, and if possible, prevent your pet from eating wild animals.  Puppies and kittens should receive prophylaxis de-worming at 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 16 weeks, and 20 weeks of age.  Many heartworm preventative medications also protect pets against roundworms, and should be given once a month, every month, all year, for the rest of your pet’s life, to provide the best protection possible.

Preventing Roundworms In People:  Roundworms pose a significant risk to humans.  People contract roundworms by touching contaminated surfaces, and then touching food, or their faces.  Roundworm eggs may accumulate in significant numbers in the soil where pets defecate.  Children should not be allowed to play where animals have passed feces, and need to wash their hands after playing with family pets. Individuals who have direct contact with soil should wear gloves and wash their hands immediately.  Do not allow pets to roam in areas where food is prepared.  Pouring a 10% bleach solution on the soil where a pet with roundworms has defecated, and cleaning contaminated surfaces with a 10% bleach solution helps prevent the spread of roundworms.

Hookworms: Hookworms are intestinal parasites that live in the digestive system of your dog or cat.  The hookworm attaches to the lining of the intestinal wall and feeds on your pet’s blood. Its eggs are ejected into the digestive tract and pass into the environment through your pet’s feces.  Larvae (young hookworms) that hatch from hookworm eggs live in the soil and can infect your pet simply through contact with and penetration of the skin, and through eating the hookworm larvae. It is common for hookworms to infect the host through a pet’s belly or feet, as well as to be ingested during routine licking when pets are grooming themselves.

Preventing Hookworms In Pets: Hoookworms can enter your pet’s body in many different ways, so is essential to keep your pet's living area clean, bathe and groom them regularly, remove feces regularly, and if possible, prevent your pet from eating wild animals.  Puppies and kittens should receive prophylaxis de-worming at 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 16 weeks, and 20 weeks of age.  Many heartworm preventative medications also protect pets against hookworms, and should be given once a month, every month, all year, for the rest of your pet’s life, to provide the best protection possible.

Preventing Hookworms In People:  Some hookworms of pets can infect humans by penetrating the skin. This is most likely to occur when walking barefoot on the beach, in a garden, or in areas where pets defecate. Infection usually results in an itching sensation at the point where the larvae enter the skin and visible tracks on the skin. The condition is easily treated but can cause mild to extreme discomfort in the affected person. One species of hookworm that infects pets is known to develop in the human intestine, too, where it may cause disease.  Children should not be allowed to play where animals have passed feces, and need to wash their hands after playing with family pets. Individuals who have direct contact with soil should wear gloves and wash their hands immediately.  Do not allow pets to roam in areas where food is prepared.  Pouring a 10% bleach solution on the soil where a pet with hookworms has defecated, and cleaning contaminated surfaces with a 10% bleach solution helps prevent the spread of hookworms

Whipworms:  The whipworm is one of the most common intestinal parasites of pets. Whipworms reside in the cecum, which is inside your pet’s body where the small intestine and large intestine meet. Pets become infected with whipworms by swallowing infective whipworm eggs in soil, or other substances that may contain pet feces.  Pets that eat other pet’s poop can also become infected with whipworms.

Preventing Whipworms In Pets: Whipworm infections can be prevented by removing your pet’s feces regularly from your yard.  Puppies and kittens should receive prophylaxis de-worming at 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 16 weeks, and 20 weeks of age.  Many heartworm preventative medications also protect pets against whipworms, and should be given once a month, every month, all year, for the rest of your pet’s life, to provide the best protection possible.

Preventing Whipworms In People:  People contract whipworms by touching contaminated surfaces, and then touching food, or their faces.  Children should not be allowed to play where animals have passed feces, and need to wash their hands after playing with family pets. Individuals who have direct contact with soil should wear gloves and wash their hands immediately.  Do not allow pets to roam in areas where food is prepared.  Pouring a 10% bleach solution on the soil where a pet with hookworms has defecated, and cleaning contaminated surfaces with a 10% bleach solution helps prevent the spread of whipworms.

Tapeworms: Tapeworms are long, flat worms that attach themselves to your pet’s intestines. A tapeworm body consists of multiple parts, or segments, each with its own reproductive organs. 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.  There are several different kinds, or species, of tapeworms that can infect your pet, each with stages in a different intermediate (in-between) host, which the pet eats to become infected. Dipylidium caninum is a tapeworm that uses fleas as its intermediate host, whereas Taenia and Echinococcus species use small rodents (mice, rats, squirrels), rabbits, or large animals (such as deer or sheep) as their intermediate hosts

Preventing Tapeworms In Pets:  Keep your pet from coming into contact with intermediate hosts that contain tapeworm larvae, and prevent them from eating small animals.  Because fleas are an intermediate host for the most common kind of tapeworm, consistent, safe, and effective flea preventative medication is essential all year round for your pet’s entire life. It is essential to keep your pet's living area clean, bathe and groom them regularly, remove feces regularly, and if you notice tapeworm segments on a pet’s bedding, to wash that bedding with HOT water.  Also, there is a brand of heartworm preventative medication, Interceptor Plus, that is on-label as being able to prevent tapeworm infections, and you can purchase this preventative from our Vets First Choice Online Pharmacy.

Click Here to learn more about preventing fleas in pets

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Preventing Tapeworms In People:  Children should not be allowed to play where animals have passed feces, and need to wash their hands after playing with family pets. Individuals who have direct contact with contaminated surfaces and bedding should wear gloves and wash their hands immediately.  Do not allow pets to roam in areas where food is prepared.  Pouring a 10% bleach solution on the soil where a pet with tapeworms has defecated, and cleaning contaminated surfaces with a 10% bleach solution helps prevent the spread of tapeworms.

The following two zoonotic parasites are not worms, but can still be found by doing a Fecal Analysis:

Giardia:  Giardia is a single-celled parasite that lives in your pet’s intestine. It can infects older pets, but more frequently infects puppies and kittens.  Pets become infected when they swallow Giardia that may be present in water or other substances that have been soiled with feces, and by eating wildlife feces found in their years.  Drinking from puddles of standing water after a heavy rain is the most common way a pet can get Giardia.  A Fecal Analysis is required to diagnose a Giardia infection, and having one done when your pet has diarrhea will allow us to prescribe the proper medication to rid your pet of the infection.

Preventing Giardia In Pets: The best way to prevent Giardia infection is to make sure that your pet has safe, clean drinking water available to them at all times. It is important not to allow pets to drink water from areas where other animals have left their feces. To prevent spreading Giardia, pick up the feces left by your pet immediately and place it in the trash.  Be sure to avoid contact with the feces by using gloves, a bag over your hand, or a scooping device.  Giardia is very difficult to remove from the outside environment once an area has become contaminated.

Preventing Giardia In People:  Children should not be allowed to play where animals have passed feces, and need to wash their hands after playing with family pets. Individuals who have direct contact with contaminated surfaces and bedding should wear gloves and wash their hands immediately.  Do not allow pets to roam in areas where food is prepared.  Pouring a 10% bleach solution on the soil where a pet has defecated, and cleaning contaminated surfaces with a 10% bleach solution helps prevent the spread of GiardiaGiardia is a common cause of diarrhea in people, but pet Giardia is not generally considered to spread from animals to humans.  While human Giardia may infect pets and then be passed on to humans, the majority of human cases are of human origin.

Coccidia: Coccidia are tiny single-celled parasites that live in the wall of your pet’s intestine. They are found more often in puppies and kittens, but they can also infect older pets.  Pets become infected by swallowing soil that contains Coccidia or other substances in the environment that may contain pet feces Also, it is possible that rodents could eat the Coccidia, and contract a “resting” stage of the parasite. Pets that are old enough to hunt could then be infected when they hunt and eat these animals. Cats are more likely to get infected with Coccidia by this method than dogs are.

Preventing Coccidia In Pets: Coccidial infections can be prevented by removing your pet’s feces regularly from your yard or other areas where the pet goes to the bathroom, and preventing your pet from hunting small animals. Because Coccidia are found most often in puppies and kittens, it is important to have puppies and kittens examined for the parasite as soon as possible with a Fecal Analysis. If your pet is infected with Coccidia, we can prescribe medication to get rid of the infection.  A cat that is infected with Coccidia cannot pass the infection to dogs and vice versa, but cats that share a litter box can pass it between each other.

Preventing Coccidia In People: Children should not be allowed to play where animals have passed feces, and need to wash their hands after playing with family pets. Individuals who have direct contact with contaminated surfaces and bedding should wear gloves and wash their hands immediately.  Do not allow pets to roam in areas where food is prepared.  Pouring a 10% bleach solution on the soil where a pet has defecated, keeping litter boxes clean and scooping frequently, and cleaning contaminated surfaces with a 10% bleach solution helps prevent the spread of Coccidia

Proper hygiene for you, your family, and your pet, is the best method to make sure these parasites are not spread.  Always pick-up after your pet, and scoop litter boxes twice daily.  Always wash your hands after such activities, and always wash hands before a meal.  Keep your pet clean as well with bathing and having them groomed at least once a month, and more often if your pet enjoys such activities as digging, or playing in wooded areas.  Wash pet bedding frequently in HOT water to destroy any zoonotic parasites that may be on them.  Giving your pet a heartworm preventative medication and a flea, mosquito, & tick preventative medication all year for the rest of their life is also essential to protecting them from many zoonotic parasites.

If your pet has diarrhea, unexplained weight loss, vomiting, becomes pot-bellied, or appears unkempt, they may be showing symptoms of a zoonotic parasitic infection that we would want to see them for right away. 

If you suspect your pet may have a zoonotic parasite, Veterinarians at Suffolk Veterinary Group Animal Wellness & Laser Surgery Center would need a fresh sample of your pet's poop.  Many of these zoonotic parasites can be identified by microscopic analysis of the sample, and knowing which parasites your pet has will help the Veterinarian prescribe the right treatment to relieve your pet of these worms.  A Fecal Analysis during your pet's Preventative Wellness Physical Examination & Consultation is a great way to determine whether your parasite preventative methods are doing the job of protecting your family and pets from zoonotic parasites.

We hope this information helps answers your question regarding zoonotic parasites so that your pet can experience a lifetime of wellness with you, please call 631-696-2400 if you have any questions, and to schedule your pet an appointment. Thank you.

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