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WHAT KINDS OF INTESTINAL PARASITES CAN MY PET HAVE?
Nearly all puppies and kittens have roundworms. In many areas of the country, up to 70% of adult dogs are also infected.
How Pets Get Roundworms: Infection usually begins when your pet accidentally swallows roundworm eggs in the soil. These eggs hatch into tiny worms that move from your pet’s intestine to its liver and lungs, then back to the intestine where they mature. The adult roundworm lays eggs that are passed in your pet’s stool to the soil. Female dogs and cats can also pass roundworms to unborn and nursing puppies and kittens.
Signs of Roundworm Infection: Left untreated, roundworms can cause a potbelly and diarrhea. Vomiting, rough coat and poor growth are other signs. Some animals show no signs of infection. Roundworms can infect people with children being at highest risk. Roundworm infection is a leading cause of pediatric retinal blindness. Humans contract the disease by touching their mouths with hands contaminated by roundworm eggs.
How to Prevent Roundworms: Take puppies and kittens to your veterinarian at an early age. Follow your veterinarian’s advice on treatment and follow up visits. Make sure you do biannual fecal examinations on all of your pets. Ask your veterinarian about monthly heartworm preventative medications that can also remove roundworms and reduce the risk of another infestation. Always clean up your pet’s stool to reduce soil contamination. Wash hands after working in soil that might be contaminated or the litter box. Instruct children to routinely wash their hands after playing with pets or outside.
Hookworms are tiny, threadlike parasites that affect puppies and kittens as well as adult animals. They are a particular problem in areas with warm, moist sandy soil.
How Pets Get Hookworms: The cycle begins when hookworm eggs are passed in a dog or cat’s stool to the soil. Your pet can swallow the young hookworms or they can penetrate its skin, usually through the feet. Like roundworms, hookworms can be passed from mothers to their young. Hookworms present a risk to humans if larvae (young hookworms) in the soil contact the skin, resulting in painful sores.
Signs of Hookworm Infection: Hookworms feed on blood and tissue by piercing the intestinal lining with tooth-like hooks. As a result, hookworms can cause severe blood loss. As few as 100 hookworms can kill a puppy. Animals with heavy infection often have bloody diarrhea. Other signs include anemia, dehydration, and apparent weakness. Some animals show no signs of infection.
How to Prevent Hookworms: Take puppies and kittens to your veterinarian at an early age. Follow your veterinarian’s advice on treatment and follow up visits. Make sure you do biannual fecal examinations on all of your pets. Ask your veterinarian about monthly heartworm preventative medications that can also remove hookworms and reduce the risk of another infestation. To kill hookworms in your yard, use sodium borate (1.0 lbs per 100 square feet). Clean up stool before they can break down in the soil. Wash hands before eating. This is especially important for children.
Dogs confined to small, outside areas are at highest risk of having whipworms.
How Pets Get Whipworms: Whipworm infection occurs when your pet swallows whipworm eggs. After hatching in the small intestine, whipworm larvae move to the large intestine where they mature. Here, adult worms lay eggs that are passed in your pet’s stool to contaminate the soil.
Signs of Whipworm Infection: Light infections of whipworms are difficult to diagnose, but they can lead to more serious problems. Large numbers of whipworms irritate the lining of your pet’s intestines, causing weight loss and pain. Watery, bloody stools may result. Severe infections can cause life-threatening dehydration and anemia. Whipworms are not dangerous to people, but once animals get infected whipworms are difficult to eliminate without medication programs.
How to Prevent Whipworms: To protect your pet from whipworms after your veterinarian’s treatment: if your dog returns to the same infected ground, treatments will be required every 3 months. A new site is preferred. If your pet lives in a pen with a washable surface, sanitize the area before returning your dog to its quarters. Ask your veterinarian about monthly heartworm preventative medications that can also remove whipworms and reduce the risk of another infestation. Daily clean up stools.
Coccidia are small organisms that infect pets, most often those in kennels, pet stores or wherever animals live together.
How Pets Get Coccidia: Adult coccidia in an infected pet will pass tiny egg-like organisms called “oocysts” in the animal’s stool. These oocysts are accidentally eaten by your pet. The oocysts break open in the intestine and release new organisms which move to the intestinal wall. There these new organisms multiply rapidly and become either new oocysts to be passed out with the stool or they return to another cell and multiply. Your infected pet is both increasing the number of internal coccidia organisms and contaminating the environment at the same time.
Signs of Coccidia Infection: When they reproduce, coccidia destroy your pet’s intestinal cells. Signs include bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, listlessness, dehydration, and weight loss. Some animals show no outward sign of infection. As with all intestinal parasites, puppies and kittens are most at risk. Coccidia are not considered a risk for humans.
How to Prevent Coccidia: Clean up stools. Although no preventatives exist, your veterinarian can prescribe medications to clear up coccidia infection. Sanitize the litter box or dog kennel.
Tapeworms are common intestinal parasites in dogs and cats. The most common tapeworm is transmitted to them through fleas.
How Pets Get Tapeworms: Your pet becomes infected with tapeworms by eating fleas or prey (such as rabbits and mice) that carry tapeworm larvae. Adult tapeworms live in your pet’s intestine and release segments filled with eggs in the stool. Tapeworm eggs are often consumed by fleas, making them carriers.
Signs of Tapeworm Infection: Tapeworms irritate your pet’s intestine and reduce food absorption. Often, tapeworm infections are diagnosed by seeing white rice-like segments near a pet’s rear end. They can also cause pets to scoot or itch at their rectum. Tapeworms can be passed on to humans (by accidentally eating an infected flea), but they don’t pose a significant human threat.
How to Prevent Tapeworms: Use a monthly flea preventative as part of a total flea control program. If your pet hunts or is exposed to fleas, look regularly for tapeworm segments in your pet’s stool and around their rectum. Ask your veterinarian about monthly heartworm preventative medications that can also remove tapeworms and reduce the risk of another infestation.
Common Tick Disease FAQs
We do annual screening for heartworms with a test called a 4dx. This means that 4 diagnostic tests are included in one procedure- testing for Heartworm, and 3 tick-borne diseases called Lyme, Anaplasma, and Ehrlichia. This test is an indicator test, meaning it gives a positive or negative result.
Lyme disease, Ehrlichia, and Anaplasma are infectious diseases spread by the bite of multiple species of ticks all over North America. You cannot catch a tick-borne disease from your dog, but it is important to be aware that if your dog has one of these diseases, ticks that carry it are in the surrounding area. Keeping all pets on a reputable flea and tick preventative will reduce the chances of ticks getting near you via your pets.
Ticks are the vector for Lyme disease, Ehrlichia, and Anaplasma. The tick (usually the tiny nymphal stage) attaches to the dog and injects spirochetal bacteria into the body. These bacteria reproduce, spread, and begin to damage many parts of the body, such as joints, the heart, kidneys, and the central nervous system. Common symptoms of all tick-borne diseases in your dog can include fever, swollen and/or painful joints, generalized moodiness, and lethargy. Not all dogs present with these symptoms, and these symptoms are commonly seen in many other sicknesses. This is why tick-borne disease screening is preformed in many sick animals.
Once diagnosed with either Lyme disease, Ehrlichia, or Anaplasma, most patients undergo a 30-day course of oral antibiotics. A large percentage of dogs feel dramatically better within a few days of treatment and usually have no lasting long-term effects. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause kidney damage in a small percentage of dogs. Although rare, some cases of Lyme infected dogs need to be on long term medication, or even hospitalized. Ehrlichia can cause problems with clotting long term if not treated, leading to excessive bruising and bleeding.
Unfortunately, because these 3 diseases are caused by a bacteria, it is possible to become re-infected if no preventative measures are taken. Year round monthly flea and tick prevention is recommended. All dogs at risk should recieve the Lyme vaccine- this is a series of 2 shots, each given 3 weeks apart. The Lyme vaccine is boosted annually after the initial series. There is no vaccine for Ehrlichia or Anaplasma, making tick prevention even more important.
Antibiotics usually treat Lyme infections, but there is no “cure” for the disease. The bacteria is very good at mimicking and hiding in normal cells of the body and can become dormant once the initial treatment is over. For this reason, the 4dx can trigger a positive result for years after a dog has been diagnosed with Lyme disease. A special blood test called a Quant C6 titer can determine if there is an active infection (meaning the initial infection relapsed, or the dog has been re-infected) or if the dog has been exposed but no treatment is necessary.
Common Heartworm FAQs
Heartworms are a parasitic roundworm that certainly do not belong inside our pets. Pets may show no clinical signs in the beginning stages, however, they will become more obviously ill as it progresses. Pets may begin to show decreased appetite, weight loss, and eventually breathing problems and heart failure.
The short answer is mosquitoes. Not all mosquitoes carry heartworm, but once a mosquito has bitten a heartworm positive animal, it can spread to the animal that it feeds on. Many times, a mosquito may feed on the blood of a coyote, feral cat, or other wildlife. Which is why our pets need continuous preventatives, as carrier mosquitoes could increase at any time.
The good news is that our pets don’t directly spread heartworms to one another. However, if one of your pets has heartworms, it could be a carrier and potential source of infection to other pets in the house. That said, it’s important to have all pets tested and covered by routine care.
Yes, both cats and dogs can be infected by heartworm.
In the early stages, many dogs may have no symptoms. However, the longer the infection persists, the more likely you’ll see your pup develop symptoms. Here are some of those symptoms:
- Mild cough
- Reluctance to exercise
- Fatigue after moderate activity
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
Much like with dogs, symptoms for heartworm in cats can be severe or nearly noticeable. Here are a few things to watch for:
- Asthma attacks
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
There are a few ways that heartworms can be detected and diagnosed.
The first way to diagnose heartworm is through blood testing. This is the most common way, as the blood test is a simple evaluation for a toxin (heartworm antigen) that stimulates an immune response.
Sometimes an infection with only a few heartworms will not produce a positive blood test because the infection isn’t producing a significant amount of antigen. Ultimately, the blood test could take many more steps, such as CBC, thyroid, and other testing to produce an accurate result.
Other forms of testing include radiographs (x-rays), or echocardiograms.
The short answer: PREVENTION! PREVENTION! PREVENTION!
There are a few things that you can do to keep mosquitoes away from your pets, such as using screens or keeping windows and doors closed or limiting any stagnant water, the most effective option is keeping up to date on preventative.
Once your pet has been tested and proven negative, you can start your pet on either monthly medication or for even easier prevention with dogs, consider getting a Proheart 12 injection for 12 months of coverage.
No, heartworms do not have the ability to live in humans. People can still be infected with heartworm through the bite of an infected mosquito, but the parasite is not able to survive in the human bloodstream.