One of the most common complaints that owners have to both veterinarians and emergency vets is “my pet has worms!!” Most often the owners will either note actual worms in their pet’s feces or just that their pet has started to have diarrhea. There are several different types of worms that can affect your pet, and some of these can also affect you or your children. It is important to keep your pet on a deworming schedule and monthly preventative.
One of the most commons worms we see are roundworms. Dogs are infected in four different ways. They can ingest the eggs of the worm in the soil. They can also be infected by eating an animal infested with roundworms. Lastly they can be infected either by nursing an infected mother or even in utero if the mother is infected. Cats are infested with a different species of roundworm. These are spread by eating soil or grooming dirt off of themselves. They are also spread by eating animals infested with the worms or from nursing from an infected mother. In both cases of roundworms the symptoms are nearly the same. Both dogs and cats often suffer from diarrhea. They can cause vomiting up of the worms, which can be quite impressive as some worms reach a length of 7 inches. They can also cause the animals to lose weight and develop a pot bellied appearance. If this isn’t bad enough, the worms can also infect you or your children. Three distinct problems can develop visceral larva migrans, ocular larva migrans, and neural larva migrans. In other words the worms are trying to develop in an unfamiliar environment. They migrate through the body and end up in places they never intended to go to. As they die the larva cause extreme inflammation and tissue damage affecting the eyes, gi tract, and in worst cases the central nervous system. All of this is easily prevented. Talk to your veterinarian about developing a plan to combat these parasites.
Whipworms are another parasite that infects both cats and dogs. Whipworms are much smaller than other types of worms. They prefer to live in the large intestine of the animal. The most common route of infestation is eating soil infected with the mature eggs. Direct contact with fresh feces is not a source of infection as it takes the eggs two to four weeks to mature in the soil. A large infestation causes bloody diarrhea with a lot of mucous. In severe infestations, some animals present with a waxing and waning weakness and severe dehydration. Felines rarely suffer symptoms from infestation. Whipworm females only lay eggs intermittently so a negative fecal does not mean that your pet does not have an infestation. Unlike roundworms, whipworms do not easily infect humans.
Hookworms are another common parasite infecting our pets. They prefer to live in the small intestine. Hookworms feed on blood. Canines are infested both by eating infected hosts and from nursing as babies from an infected bitch. They can also be infected from contaminated soil. Cats are infected by contact with infected soil or by eating infected hosts such as cockroaches. The most common signs with an infestation include anemia, diarrhea, coughing, and can cause high mortality in puppies. Puppies and kittens can become clinical two to three weeks after birth. Hookworms can also infest people. In people they cause cutaneous larval migrans. In other words once again the worms are lost without GPS. The larva travel through the skin seeking a proper environment to mature in. They cause severe inflammation in the skin. Infected people have noted an extremely itchy tract running through the skin. To prevent your pet from becoming infected please consult with your veterinarian for a proper deworming schedule. All of these parasites are easily preventable.
Dogs and cats also can suffer from a tapeworm known as dipylidium caninum. This tapeworm has a completely different mode of infecting our pets being spread by fleas. Flea larvae eat the tapeworm eggs. The eggs then develop into immature tapeworms. The dog or cat is infected by eating the infected flea while grooming or biting at the annoying bug. The tapeworm then attaches to the interior lining of the gi tract and begins to grow. Common signs noted by owners include weight loss, diarrhea, and rice shaped tapeworm segments. People can be infected by accidently eating the fleas as well. Signs in people include abdominal pain, diarrhea, tapeworm segments (rice,) and weight loss.
There are other types of tapeworm that can be contracted by our pets. They are all from the genus Taenia. They have varying means of transmission, but most are spread by consuming uncooked pork, beef, or rodents. The immature worms begin to mature in the intestine. They can grow to a length of up to five yards. Once they are mature the tapeworm segments rupture releasing the eggs. They are then ingested by an intermediate host(rodent, pig, deer, or cow.) The eggs then hatch in the host’s intestine and migrate into the circulatory system. From there they move to the liver and then on to the abdominal cavity. They then form a cyst inside the abdominal cavity where they wait for the host to be eaten by a predator. Taenia can infect humans. Both the immature cyst and the eggs of Taenia solium can infect people. Depending on which form is contracted, the symptoms can vary but are severe. There is a third genus of tapeworm, Echinococcus, that can also infect dogs, cats, and humans. Thankfully it is very rare. It can also cause severe disease in people. All species of tapeworm are sensitive to deworming so once again discuss a preventative regime with your veterinarian. Those are the most common culprits affect dogs and cats. Each of these worms is different, but many cause common symptoms. Each of these parasites is also completely preventable. Take the time to discuss a proper deworming regime with your veterinarian. A good deworming plan is effective both in keeping your pet healthy and in reducing the cost of your pet care. On a side note, after deworming an infected pet consider confining them to a small easily cleaned area for a day or two. As the worms pass they can mess up furniture and carpets!! Proper care also prevents you from contracting worms as well…..gross!!!!