Watching out for intestinal parasites in dogs and cats

By Dr. Brandy Middleton Boykin

 

There are several different types of parasites that dogs and cats can contract. Some of these can be transmitted to humans, therefore it is very important to keep your pets parasite free for the pet’s health and yours.

The first parasite that will be discussed is the roundworm- Toxocara canis. This is the most common parasite of dogs and cats. There are a few different routes of transmission for pets which include: ingestion of the eggs, trans-mammary route from the dam’s- female’s milk, and in utero while the dam is pregnant with the pups. Signs that owners can see from pets with roundworms are lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and actually seeing the worms, in the feces or vomit, which are long and white. Diagnosis of this parasite in animals is by fecal flotation. Treatment is de-wormer of course. Consult with a veterinarian to determine which type of de-wormer is needed. This type of worm is a concern for the human population because humans can contract these worms by ingesting the eggs. When humans contract a disease or parasite from a pet, it is called zoonosis. Once the egg is ingested by a human, the egg hatches and the larva continuously migrates throughout different tissues in the body until it is trapped by an inflammatory reaction. These types of larvae are more commonly known as larval migrans. The larval migrans often migrate to the eye and can cause blindness. Children and immuno-compromised adults are most susceptible to contraction of roundworms. If a human is suspected of having roundworms, they need to consult with a human doctor immediately.

The second parasite that will be discussed is the hookworm- Ancylostoma spp. The ideal environment for hookworms is well-drained soil and warm humid areas that are shaded. The different routes of transmission are percutaneous- through the skin, ingestion of the larvae/eggs, and trans-mammary. The most common method of transmission is that the larvae penetrate the skin of the pet. Once this has occurred, the larvae migrate to the lungs and are coughed up and swallowed. Once they are swallowed, then they mature in the intestinal tract of the pet thus causing disease. Hookworms have hook-like suckers on their mouth and attach to the intestinal wall and suck the pet’s blood. If the hookworm burden is bad enough, the pet will become anemic which can be noted by pale gums. Bloody diarrhea and lethargy are other signs of hookworms. Diagnosis is by fecal flotation. Treatment is de-wormer and if the pet is anemic, the pet needs supportive care. Humans can contract hookworms also. These are less commonly contracted than roundworms. Humans can become infected with hookworms by ingestion of the larvae/egg or by the hookworm penetrating the skin and migrating underneath the skin causing red tracks and itching of the skin. Again, children and immuno-compromised adults are most susceptible to contraction of hookworms. If a human is suspected of having hookworms, they need to consult with a human doctor immediately.

The third parasite that will be discussed is the tapeworm- Dipyllidium caninum. Tapeworms are transmitted to the pet by ingestion of a flea or flea feces. Tapeworms do not usually make the pet sick. They are usually seen by the owner and look like rice grains. They often can be found in the pet’s bedding or dried on their rear. Diagnosis is usually made by description of the worm by the owner or by the veterinarian seeing them on the pet’s rear. Tapeworms can be diagnosed by fecal flotation but tapeworms do not shed eggs as freely as other types of worms do and are therefore rarely seen on fecal flotation. Treatment is de-wormer. Consult with a veterinarian as to which type of de-wormer is needed. Also, control of the flea population is needed to keep the pet from getting tapeworms again. Humans can get tapeworms also by ingestion of the tapeworm itself or the tapeworm eggs. If a human is suspected of having tapeworms, they need to consult with a human doctor immediately.

The fourth parasite that will be discussed is the whipworm- Trichuris vulpis. Whipworms are much less common. They are transmitted by ingestion of the egg. Signs are chronic, mucous consistency diarrhea with blood and weight loss. Diagnosis is by fecal flotation and treatment is de-wormer. Cats and humans are rarely infected with this type of worm.

The last parasite that will be discussed is coccidia- Isospora spp. Coccidia is not a worm but a protozoan. It is transmitted by ingestion of the eggs/oocysts. Infection usually occurs in young animals that have been stressed in some way. Signs are diarrhea, decreased appetite, weight loss, and lethargy. Treatment is an antibiotic. Consult with a veterinarian to determine appropriate treatment.

The aforementioned parasites can be a burden on a pet’s health in many ways. Parasites can also be transmitted to humans thus making it very important to take your pet to the veterinarian and have a fecal test done prior to de-worming the pet. It is best to know what type of worm the pet has so that the correct type of de-wormer can be given. Also, if your pet is diagnosed with worms, cleaning of the area where your pet has defecated will decrease the chance that they will re-infect themselves with the worms again. If you have any questions about worms or treatment of your pet for worms, consult with a veterinarian.

Editor’s note: Dr. Brandy Middleton Boykin is a veterinarian with Brandy’s Animal Care Center in Eupora.