Intestinal parasites in pets: a veterinary plan for pet care

Aug 17

Categories: Blog

Intestinal parasites may not be the most popular topic but certainly a medical problem worth explaining. Afterall, we, at Animal Health Care take this matter very seriously because not only do these parasites affect our pets but we, too, can be infected and affected by them. That's why we'll ask "did you  bring a stool (fecal) sample today? By the way I'm not really clear how the term stool = fecal sample but most people seem to understand what is is we're asking! Dogs and cats can be "hosts" to a number of organisms living in their GI tract. There are worms: Hookworms, Roundworms, Whipworms, and Tapeworms as well as other bugs such as Giardia and Coccidia to name the most common intestinal parasites.

Pets become infected with these intestinal parasites in a number of ways, including:

  • drinking contaminated water
  • coming into contact with other infected animals
  • coming in contact with fecal material containing these parasite eggs or larvae
  • swallowing fleas that are carrying the infective stage of Tapeworms
  • nursing from an infected mother
  • predation or hunting which through ingestion transmits the parasite from a rodent or another hunted animal carrying the parasite

Healthy well -fed pets may still have an intestinal parasite problem without showing any signs. The CAPC or Commission for Animal Parasite Control has guidelines that we follow to try to identify and protect our pets and their people. The recommendaiton is to deworm puppies and kittens automatically, deworm animals intended for breeding programs, and checking a sample of feces (again, a stool sample) at least twice yearly. In Europe it is customary to deworm all pets quarterly. There are however some signs that might indicate your pet has a problem so if you note any of these changes listed below, call your pet's veterinary office and bring that fresh sample with you. Look for the following:

  1. change in appetite
  2. coughing
  3. diarrhea with or without blood or mucous (slimy gelatin like)
  4. unexplained weight loss
  5. changes in haircoat
  6. bloated belly
  7. vomiting
  8. runny eyes and overall poor appearance
  9. rice like segments at your pet's rear end (hiney, coolie, tushi area)

Sometimes you may see your pet's scooting along the ground (the Toby tushi trick in the carpet cleaning advertisement) because the parasites can cause irritation and itchiy feeling to the area around the anus.

What kind of parasite does my pet have? You can't usually see the parasites by looking at the bowel movement. In fact we must do some lab testing or processing of a sample and then look under a microscope or perform a specific test using the sample to identify problem parasites. Sometimes you'll find worms vomited up or mixed into the poop: these are usually Roundworms and look like spaghetti or you may see rice grains at or under the tail which are Tapeworms. (Sorry for all you pasta lovers out there!).

Treatment options for parasite problems often include medications such as tablets, liquids, pastes for your pet(s) and environmental decontamination. Your pet may have more than one parasite and more than one of your pets may have the same or different infections. That's why it's important to bring a fresh sample from each of your pets. Even if the sample is negative for finding parasites, based on the history and population of the household, your veterinarian may recommend deworming all resident pets to start on the same healthy baseline. Most treatments take a few days or need to be repeated based on the parsite life cycle and of course repeat testing to ensure that we have removed the threat to your pets is essential. Wash the bedding and talk to your veterinarian about the environment control. If your pets spend much time in the yard you may need to treat the yard as well as your pets. And, please don't just use an over-the-counter dewormer: these products may not be appropriate for the parasite you think your pet has. There really is no one dewormer that effectively treats all intestinal parasites and in fact some of these products have side effects like cramping, bloating, diarrhea and vomiting.

How can you protect your pets from getting intestinal parasites? Since fedces is the source of most problems, an immediate clean up of waste products is imperative. Now, I know what many are thinking: what about the pet parent who doesn't clean up after their pets; and you know who you are. Well, you're leaving other pets and your own open to infection and problems. Try to avoid letting your pets sniff, lick, or even eat the fecal material left over by other animals. Keep your pets and the environment clean. You probably can't control exposure sources such as the garden soil that cats like to use for elimination purposes but do try to cover sand boxes which look to cats for all intents and purposes like one BIG litter box. These are ways that we and our children get exposed to parasites. Some ways to protect your pet include:

  • keep your pets and the environment free of fleas
  • bring a sample to your veterinary office for intestinal parasite checks at least twice yearly at your pet's well care visits
  • puppies and kittens as well as breeding dogs and cats should be preventatively dewormed: ask your pet's vet about the specific protocol for safely deworming these pets
  • use preventative and protective medications as directed by your veterinarian, we can prevent many problems with a customized plan for your family pets

Under some conditions, intestinal parasties can be transmitted to to people from thier pets. Those at particular risk include pregnant women (who should not be cleaning litter boxes if possible to avoid another problem parastie called Toxoplasmosis found in cat poop), imunocompromised individuals as well as smaller children who may not understand hand washing protocols. Parasites in people migrate through the body to lodge in the eye, brain and some other areas which can cause blindness or other health problems. This danger is a real threat so if you're concerned or your pet has a continuing problem ask your veterinarian to speak with your human health care professional if needed since we can only treat your pets, some doctors may not ask about pets in the household and will forget about this very real concern!

Intestinal parasites are a threat to your pets, you and your family. Your veterinary team has  very good reasons for asking for that sample of poop at each visit. The sample should be fresh (within 24 hours of being eliminated),the size of a quarter to a half dollar place in a plastic bag (or you can request a sample container from your veterinary office) and don't worry if you only can bring a sample of diarrhea (it's messy but still important) because we can use that as well for testing. Protect your family and your pet: talk to your vet!