Intestinal Parasites

Dogs and cats can become infected with numerous intestinal parasites which can cause significant health problems if left untreated. These may include roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, coccidia, giardia, and others. Among the most frequently diagnosedRoundworms infestations are those involving roundworms and hookworms. Ninety percent of puppies are born with roundworms or acquire them shortly after birth from their mothers. Adult animals can become infected if exposed to contaminated areas outside or if small mammals (which can carry the parasite) are caught and eaten. Roundworms live in the intestines of infected animals causing obstructions, damaging the gut, and depriving your pet of important nutrients. Hookworms can also cause serious problems and are potentially more lethal, especially to puppies and kittens. They suck blood and feed on the intestinal walls. Hookworms can be transmitted in ways similar to those mentioned above for roundworms, but may also infect by directly penetrating through the skin.

Signs of roundworm infection
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty breathing/coughing
  • Dull, scruffy coat
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Change in appetite
  • Healthy pets may not show any signs

Signs of hookworm infection
  • Dark or bloody diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Pale gums
  • Weight loss
  • Sudden death
  • Change in appetite
  • Healthy pets may not show any signs

Roundworms and hookworms are a threat to people as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 13.9% of the U.S. population has antibodies to Toxocara (roundworms). This suggests that tens of millions of Americans may have been exposed to the Toxocara parasite. Cats and dogs with roundworm and hookworm infestations increase the risk of human exposure. Those at highest risk include children, the elderly, and those with immune system compromise (e.g. severely ill individuals, those infected with HIV, and patients receiving chemotherapy or other immunosuppressive treatments). People may acquire these worms through contact with objects or areas contaminated by the fecal matter of an infected animal. These areas could include yards, playgrounds, beaches, sandboxes, crawl spaces, areas under porches and houses, parks, and other public places frequented by pets. Roundworms can cause damage to internal organs, pneumonia, and blindness. Hookworms can cause itchy rashes, severe stomach aches, and nausea.

Prevention of roundworms and hookworms is therefore important to both your pet and the rest of your family! It begins by having your pet examined by a veterinarian. In addition, fecal testing is recommended. Multiple microscopic fecal evaluations should be performed in puppies and kittens because the parasite eggs can be shed sporadically in the stool. Thereafter, an annual fecal check is recommended for adult dogs and cats (sooner if concerns). These tests are important because infected animals can appear healthy and it is rare to actually see these worms in the stool. If infection is detected, appropriate medication to treat the worm infestation will be prescribed and our knowledgeable staff will provide informational counseling. There are also once-monthly medications available to prevent parasitic infection. We recommend the use of Heartgard Plus or Interceptor for the treatment and control of common intestinal parasites in your puppy or adult dog. For cats and kittens, Revolution is a great option.

Other preventive measures may be taken as well. Because feces are the most common source of intestinal parasites, keep your pets away from areas where other animals have relieved themselves and in your own yard, dispose of feces as quickly as possible. For human protection, it is recommended that sandboxes be covered since these may be used as outdoor “litter boxes” by cats. When gardening, gloves should be worn and hands should be washed frequently to prevent hand-to-mouth transmission of intestinal parasites. While outdoors, it is also wise to wear shoes, as hookworms can infect by penetrating through the skin.

If you have any questions about roundworm and hookworm disease in your pets, please do not hesitate to ask us. We are also happy to address questions regarding any other type of parasite. If you have further concerns regarding disease transmission and infection in humans, please consult with your family physician. Additional information is also available on the website of the CDC.