Know the facts!
There is much more to controlling parasites in our pets than just simple “deworming”. It is thought that 30% to 50% of dogs and cats carry gastrointestinal (GI) parasites and that 1 to 3 million people in the U.S. have infections from the same parasites carried by pets. Children, the elderly and immuno-compromised people are at high risk.
There are only two types of GI parasites that can be seen without a microscope- roundworms (long strands that resemble spaghetti) and tapeworms (which resemble grains of rice). Other types of GI parasites that commonly found in pets are hookworms, whipworms, giardia, and coccidia. Dogs and cats get infected with GI parasites by walking places where other animals have defecated. The microscopic eggs and larvae end up on your pet’s feet; your pet then licks their feet and becomes infected with these GI parasites. Three weeks later, your pet is shedding eggs and larvae from their GI tract. If your pet is infected, it is possible for your child to become infected with these parasites.
Other parasites that can affect your pet’s health are external parasites such as fleas, ticks and mites – some of which can also transmit disease to people. Heartworms are parasites that do not affect people, but can cause devastating disease in our pets.
It is almost always easier and more cost-effective to prevent parasites than to treat them once your dog has them. It is also safer for you and your family to have a parasite-free pet. Contact the Companion Animal Parasite Council www.petsandparasites.org for more information about how intestinal parasites can effect pets and people.
Dogs, cats, and ferrets can become infected with this disease year-round in warm climates since it is spread by mosquitoes. Even pets that do not go outside may become infected if a mosquito gets into the house! The heartworms take 6 months to mature before they can be detected by blood tests, and if not treated, the disease causes severe side effects and can be fatal. Your pet will not be likely to show any symptoms of heartworm disease in the early stages, but eventually infected pets develop signs such as a wet cough, weakness, exercise intolerance, and an enlarged abdomen.
Yearly heartworm screening tests are designed to catch the infection while it is still in the early stages and we have the best chance at successful treatment. For more information on heartworm disease, please ask one of our veterinarians at your next appointment or visit www.heartwormsociety.org under Pet Owner Resources.
How can you keep your pet and your family safe from these parasites and the diseases they spread? Here are some tips from our veterinarians:
- Keep your pet on monthly heartworm preventative all year, and check a heartworm test at their yearly exam. This same medication also helps prevent many GI parasites and in some cases helps prevent ear and skin mites. Keep your pet on topical flea and tick control all year as well.
- Scoop the yard where your dog defecates at least weekly, ideally daily, as worm eggs and larvae are found in stool and can contaminate the environment. This is especially important if your dog has been diagnosed with GI parasites, and you are in the process of treatment.
- Bring your pet’s fecal sample to veterinarian at the time of their annual exam, or any time abnormal feces is noted. The fecal sample can be checked for the presence of GI parasites and medications can be dispensed as needed.
- Teach your children to wash their hands before eating, especially if they have recently handled their pet.
1 Tiffany J. Rule, DVM, Parasites, Pets, and Kids, www.vin.com, 2007