Worm parasites are fairly common among pets with some being more dangerous than others. Most of these common parasites are contracted by ingesting infected soil, water, bodily waste, or an infected host such as a bird or rodent. The parasites can also usually be caught by consuming an infected mother’s milk or by eating infected fleas while self-grooming; some parasites can even burrow through skin to infect a pet.
To determine if a pet has a particular worm infestation, the veterinarian will usually perform a fecal floatation exam. During this exam a stool sample is placed in a special solution that causes the fecal matter to sink and any parasite eggs to float, allowing the veterinarian to collect a sample of the eggs and examine them further under a microscope. Once under a microscope, the veterinarian will be able to determine the exact type of worm contaminating a pet.
Treatment for worm parasites is a simple medication prescribed by the veterinarian. Prescriptions vary depending on the level of infection as well as the type of parasite. Some medications will only kill adult worms, so a combination of dewormers might be prescribed. Alternatively, a medication might be prescribed for a prolonged period of time to ensure that the parasite is fully exterminated.
Pet owners should remain cautious because some parasites will be killed off by dewormers, but can remain dormant within the host, reappearing during times of stress or when a mother gets pregnant. Also, while some pet owners may decide to administer a dewormer on their own, some parasites, such as tapeworms, are not curable with generic, over-the-counter dewormers, so a trip to the vetrinarian is necessary.
Keeping kennel areas clean, controlling rodents, and testing females prior to breeding can all help prevent the spread of parasites.
Symptoms of a worm parasite in pets can include:
- Bloody stools
- Itching around anus
- Pale tongue, gums, and nose
- Pot-bellied appearance
- Visible worms in vomit or stool
- Weight loss
Additional details about the most common parasitic worms follow. If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms, please contact our office and schedule an appointment today.
Hookworms are small, thin worms that attach to the small intestine and live off the host’s blood and tissue. They are most common in warm, humid geographical areas and most often infect puppies, though they are capable of contaminating older dogs and cats as well. Eggs are shed in an infected pet’s stools, causing concern for multi-pet households.
Humans are capable of contracting hookworms from their pets, though the parasite cannot survive very long in a human environment. Hookworms penetrate human flesh and migrate, causing a small red, itchy patch of skin; they eventually die off.
Most kittens and puppies are born with roundworms and extract the infection from the mother’s tissues or the mother’s milk. These worms sit in the intestinal tract, growing up to 5 inches in length. Roundworm eggs are coated in a hard shell that allows them to survive for years in soil and on other surfaces, potentially re-infecting your pet for a prolonged period of time.
Roundworms can also infect humans; the most common cases are among children. When not treated immediately, they can cause severe damage to a human host and can even cause blindness.
Tapeworms are white in color with a long, segmented body. They live in the digestive tract by burrowing their head into the intestinal lining. With their body left floundering downstream, the worm is able to absorb nutrients as they pass through the intestinal tract.
Humans can contract tapeworms by coming into contact with fecal matter from a dog that is infected. Humans are not a definitive host and therefore adult tapeworms will not develop, however the larvae can produce cysts on the lungs, liver and brain which can lead to serious illness or even death.
Whipworms are common among canines, namely older dogs, but can still infect cats. They are small and have a whip-like body with a narrow head that gets progressively larger towards the tail. These parasites attach to the walls of the large intestine and survive by feeding on the host’s blood. Whipworms can survive for years within their host as well as in soil, food, water, and on animal flesh.
Cats infected with whipworm usually have very light infections and do not show any outward symptoms. Humans have their own form of whipworm, though it is not the same type that infects pets nor can it be contracted from pets.
If you have any further questions about parasitic worms, feel free to contact our office.