Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal parasites are something that most every pet and owner has to deal with at some point.

There are many different types of intestinal parasites. Some of the most common of these are the parasitic worms (Roundworms, Hookworms, Whipworms, and Tapeworms). Lesser known, are the protozoa parasites (Coccidia and Giardia).

ROUNDWORMS: Roundworms are the large intestinal worm infecting both dogs and cats. Animals are usually infected by ingesting fecal matter containing eggs. They can also be transmitted from the mother during pregnancy. This parasite is long, white, and round in appearance. Roundworms may cause diarrhea, vomiting, a pot-bellied appearance, and a generalized failure to thrive. Good hygiene practices, and regular deworming medication control these parasites.

*Roundworms are zoonotic parasites, meaning they can be passed to humans. Roundworms are especially problematic to children, who often acquire the larvae from putting their hands in their mouths without washing properly first. In some instances, the larvae can migrate to the eyes, causing blindness.

HOOKWORMS: Another fairly common intestinal parasite is the Hookworm. Hookworms are microscopic in size, so you won’t be able to identify them without taking a stool sample to the veterinarian. Infection is caused by ingesting the larvae from the stool, or by larval migration through the skin. The mother can also pass these during pregnancy. Hookworms suck blood from the intestinal tract, and can cause severe diarrhea and anemia if left untreated. They also cause weight loss, poor hair coat, and in extreme circumstances, death. Good hygiene practices, and regular deworming of pets control hookworms.

*Hookworms are zoonotic parasites, meaning they can be passed to humans. Hookworms are especially problematic to children, who often acquire the larvae from putting their hands in their mouths without washing properly first. Hookworms can also migrate through the skin, usually by humans going barefoot in the soil.

WHIPWORMS: Whipworms are another microscopic intestinal parasite that causes diarrhea and anemia and possibly death in dogs. Any age dog is susceptible. Infection is by ingestion, usually from the stool of an infected dog, or the soil. Management of whipworms is to practice good hygiene, and regular deworming of pets.

*Whipworms are not zoonotic parasites.

TAPEWORMS: Tapeworms are a large (visible) intestinal worm of dogs and cats. Tapeworms are passed animal to animal by the flea. A pet while grooming itself ingests a flea carrying tapeworm eggs. After a few weeks, those eggs hatch, and begin releasing the egg packets that we see. These packets have the appearance of a flat, white or light brown piece of rice. They move, and are usually visible in the bowel movement, or dried and stuck to the hair around the rectum of the pet. Other fleas on the pet feed on this egg packet, and when a pet swallows them, the cycle continues. Management of these intestinal parasites is by practicing regular flea control, and deworming medication.

COCCIDIA: Coccidia are not a worm, but a microscopic protozoan parasite of dogs and cats. Infection is by ingestion of eggs in stool, or by eating small rodents that have been infected. Signs of coccidial infection are diarrhea, vomiting, poor weight gain, and possibly some central nervous system signs. As many pets (especially puppies) re-infect themselves by eating or playing in their own stool, good hygiene practices are paramount at eliminating this parasite. Anticoddidial drugs are available.

GIARDIA: Giardia is a microscopic intestinal protozoan. This parasite is found in contaminated water sources. Wild animals carrying the protozoan will drink, and then urinate, near the water sources. Pets that then drink out of the water are at risk of picking up this parasite. Any age of animal is susceptible, and the main symptoms are bloody or watery diarrhea, and weight loss. Elimination requires good hygiene practices, and antibiotic therapy.

*Giardia affects many mammals, including humans. It is the reason we should not drink from untreated water sources.

In conclusion, there are many intestinal parasites that can affect the health and well being of our pets. Some of them can affect us as owners as well. Regular sanitation, deworming, and veterinary checkups are the best way to avoid parasitic problems. Many of the monthly heartworm preventive products also deworm against some of the common parasites. If your pet has experienced any of the above listed symptoms, please don’t hesitate to bring in a stool sample, or your pet for us to examine.


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