Intestinal Parasites – Know Your Pet’s Risk

2016-07-08

How much do you know about intestinal parasites and your pet? Is your pet adequately screened and protected year-round? Read our questions and answers below to make sure your pet is covered!

Where can my pet come into contact with intestinal parasites?

  • Parasite eggs can be common soil contaminants. The typical route of infection for many intestinal parasites is through ingestion of contaminated material containing the infective stage of the parasite. Commercial potting soil has been known to contain parasite eggs(1), so even indoor pets can be exposed.
  • Nursing puppies and kittens can acquire certain parasites through transmammary transmission.
  • Ingesting a host vertebrate animal containing the parasite is also an important method of transmission. Some insects (e.g., flies, cockroaches) can even transmit certain parasites.
  • For hookworms, larvae can also migrate through intact skin as a route of infection.

I will know if my pet has intestinal parasites, right?

  • Intestinal parasites certainly can cause symptoms in pets. Signs can include things such as anorexia, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stools, or anemia, to name a few. Tapeworm segments can cause hind end itching, chewing, and scooting. Sometimes worms or parasite segments can be seen passing in the feces. However, it is important to note that pets with intestinal parasites will not always show clinical signs. Therefore, routine intestinal parasite screening is critical to help identify asymptomatic pets.

What is involved with fecal testing in pets?

  • When your pet is due for a fecal test, it is always best to bring a fresh fecal sample to the clinic. This will ensure we have an adequate sample size for analysis. Additionally, we can avoid having to collect a fecal sample from your pet at the clinic (which will help minimize your pet’s stress).
  • Fecal testing is performed by using special fecal solutions and then analyzing the sample under a microscope to look for evidence of parasites. For pets not having clinical signs, we are now sending our fecal testing to an outside laboratory. This laboratory has additional testing capabilities that provide a more sensitive level of fecal analysis utilizing a process called fecal centrifugation. Utilizing the fecal centrifugation method gives us even more confidence in our fecal testing results.

How can I keep my pet and the environment protected?

  • The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends year-round broad-spectrum intestinal parasite control. Luckily this is quite easy to accomplish! Many heartworm prevention products also deworm for some of the more common intestinal parasites. For example, if you give your dog Sentinel each month, in addition to heartworm prevention and keeping fleas from laying viable eggs, you are also deworming for roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. Similarly, if you apply Revolution to your cat each month, in additional to heartworm, flea, and ear mite protection, you are also providing protection against roundworms and hookworms. Visit CAPC’s Pets and Parasites website for more great information.
  • Always remove fecal waste promptly – and be sure to wash your hands. Many parasite eggs are actually not infectious as soon as they pass from the stool into the environment and need a period of time to develop into an infectious stage. Prompt removal of fecal material from the yard or litter box will remove the chances of environmental contamination with infective-stage parasites.

What do I need to know about intestinal parasites in my pet and zoonotic disease risk?

  • Zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be spread between animals and humans. Children, the elderly, and immunocompromised individuals can be at a higher risk for the transmission of zoonotic diseases.
  • Many intestinal parasites have zoonotic potential. In general, prompt removal and disposal of feces, washing hands, and keeping outdoor areas (sandboxes, play areas, gardens) free from fecal material are good practices to follow.
  • If your pet is diagnosed with a disease that has the potential to be transmitted to humans, please consult your doctor for medical advice. 

Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS

References:

1. The Veterinary Record. February 18, 2006.

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