How to Keep Your Pets Parasite Free
Heartworms aren’t the only parasites that can hitch a destructive ride on your pet. Intestinal parasites can also be a troublesome concern, especially for very young animals. Not only can they harm your pet, but these bugs can also be transferred to children and adults, making them sick as well. But don’t despair—there are many steps you can take to prevent these pesky critters from harming you or your best friend.
The first place to start is at your veterinarian’s office, where your pet should be tested for parasites. If your pet comes through with a clean bill of health, your veterinarian will tell you what you can do to make sure your pet is never “bugged” by parasites. If your pet does have a parasite problem, your veterinarian can provide you with different medications and treatments to treat the problem and get him back on the road to good health.
WHAT ARE THEY?
The most common intestinal parasites in young animals are hookworms and roundworms, says Dr. Bruce Hammerberg, professor of parasitology at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Most roundworm infections are limited to very young animals,” Dr. Hammerberg says. “They can receive roundworm larvae from their mothers while still in the uterus.” Once inside the animal, the parasite colonizes the intestine and begins reproducing.
“Roundworms are irritants that compete for nutrients,” explains Dr. Hammerberg. “That can lead to some bouts of diarrhea and lack of growth in the pet. Hookworms, on the other hand, are blood feeders. They attach to the lining of the small intestine and feed on the pet’s blood.”
Another parasite, the tapeworm, is quite common in dogs and cats, says Dr. Anne Zajac, veterinary parasitologist and associate professor at the Virginia/Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. “Tapeworms are carried by fleas,” Dr. Zajac says. “They are not transmitted by the bite of the flea but rather when the dog or cat snaps at the flea and swallows it. Tapeworms are almost always associated with a flea infestation.” Whipworm, while less common, is another parasite that may infect dogs past puppyhood.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR PET HAS PARASITES?
“Once the animal is infected, the worms grow, mature, mate, and start producing eggs that come out in the feces,” says Dr. Zajac. “Owners can see roundworms because they’re quite big. Tapeworms are segmented, and the end segment is passed out of the animal, too. They look like rice grains.” Your veterinarian should conduct a yearly fecal examination on your pet to look for these worms, and you should let him know if you see anything suspicious.
Apart from identifying the actual parasites, your pet may show signs of their presence in other ways, too. “An animal with parasites will often have a big pot belly and scruffy coat,” says Dr. Hammerberg. “Whipworm will cause an inflammation of the large bowel. There might be mild loose stool or blood-streaked stool.”
HOW CAN THEY BE PREVENTED?
Even though newborn animals under good care are routinely examined by their veterinarians for intestinal parasites, your new puppy or kitten might have worms that you don’t know about. When your young pet visits the veterinarian, deworming is usually scheduled every 3 weeks until the animal is 12 weeks old to ensure that any intestinal parasites are killed. After that, routine deworming should be a regular part of your pet’s visits to the veterinarian.
If your pet has been given a regular heartworm preventive from your veterinarian, intestinal parasite prevention may already be accounted for. “Many heartworm preventives have a crossover effect,” says Dr. Hammerberg. Ask your veterinarian if the heartworm medication your pet is taking covers parasites, too.
Since ingestion of the eggs produced by adult worms is one of the primary ways your pet can become a host to intestinal parasites, keeping the yard, kennel, or run clean is extremely important. “The very best prevention is cleaning up after your pet,” says Dr. Zajac. “Removing feces from the environment as soon as it is deposited is far better than the treatment of existing parasites in the animal.” Keeping your pet’s environment clean, along with a regular deworming program, can help keep your pet pest-free and healthy.
Your climate may affect the potential for parasites, too. “In the southeastern United States, we have environmental conditions that are warm and moist, so when parasites come out of the host in the form of eggs, they survive very well,” Dr. Zajac says. The eggs can last in the environment for years and continue to infect unwitting pets.
“Any time you get a new pet, be sure you take it to the veterinarian to have it tested for parasites and treated appropriately,” says Dr. Zajac. There are several effective drugs available for use in treating parasites, and these, along with routine deworming and keeping your pet’s environment clean, can prevent your pet from becoming sick. Visit your veterinarian, who can examine your pet and provide you with guidelines to help keep your pet parasite-free all year long.
RECOGNIZING THE SIGNS
The following signs can alert you that your pet might have a problem with intestinal parasites. If you recognize these signs in your cat or dog, visit your veterinarian as soon as possible so your pet can be treated effectively:
Common signs of hookworm:
- Itching, rash
- Poor appetite
- Pale gums
- Weight loss
- Dark stools or constipation
Common signs of roundworm:
- Dull coat
- Potbellied appearance
- Vomiting of adult worms
- Poor appetite
- Worms in feces