Intestinal Parasites

As unpleasant as it may seem to diagnose and treat worms and other intestinal parasites, pet owners should be aware of those diseases that can affect their animals’ (and in most cases their own) health. Cats and dogs are the favorite nesting grounds of four principal groups of worms and a few species of microscopic protozoa. The four worms are roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, and whipworms. Among the protozoa are coccidia, toxoplasma, giardia, and amoeba. Proper identification is vital. Unfortunately in the case of parasites, identification isn’t always easy because adult worms release their eggs sporadically. Knowing the exact organism causing the problem is the first step in finding a solution.

Providing your veterinarian with your pet’s fecal sample (bowel movement) is the first step towards proper diagnosis. Collect fresh fecal sample as close to the examination as possible, following your veterinarian’s instructions. Keeping the samples cool or refrigerated in the provided (and tightly closed) sample container is very important. Your veterinarian will have a microscopic examination of the fecal sample performed to identify the worm’s eggs.

Treatment begins once the specific parasites are identified. Different parasites will require different medications. Your veterinarian can administer the proper treatment for your pet. Tapeworms are of special concern. Tapeworm segments resemble small pieces of rice. They are one of the few parasites that may be seen in a bowel movement or clinging to the hair near your pet’s tail. If you notice these segments, carefully place them in a small container and ask your veterinarian for positive identification along with a fecal sample. Several types of worms may be involved, and it is important to identify all of them for proper treatment.

Most treatments take only a few days. However, periodic checking is necessary to be sure that all intestinal worms have been eliminated. A fecal sample should be reexamined about three to four weeks after the deworming. Your veterinarian may request an additional fecal sample at a later date. With some intestinal worms, treatment of the environment also may be needed to prevent reinfection and spread to other animals or humans. Bowel movements are the greatest source of most worms. To avoid worms, keep your pet away from areas where other animals have relieved themselves and dispose of bowel movements as quickly as possible in your own yard. Under some conditions of poor hygiene, worms can be transmitted to humans. Discuss the risk of human exposure with your veterinarian.

A change in appetite, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood), weight loss, a rough-dry coat, or just an overall poor appearance are some of the symptoms caused by intestinal worms. If you suspect the presence of parasites, consult your veterinarian immediately. Sometimes healthy, well-fed pets do not show signs of intestinal parasites.

Most importantly, always seek veterinary advice before diagnosing or deworming your pet. There is a real risk of harming your beloved companion (even yourself and your family) with improper diagnosis or treatment. Most deworming medications have toxicity precautions and must be properly administered to avoid over or undertreatment.  An annual fecal check is also good preventive medicine as some parasitic infections may go unnoticed.

Remember, many of the intestinal worms and other parasites are transmissible to human beings, especially to children. As soon as a parasitic organism is identified in your pet, preventing its further spread with proper sanitary practices and effective treatment by a veterinarian is extremely important.

Always use sanitary gloves when handling fecal samples (including cleaning the litterbox) and immediately wash your hands with soap and warm water afterwards.  Promptly clean any soiled areas inside your home and do not let children play near animal waste.