Intestinal parasites are common in cats and dogs with several of the most common parasites able to infect humans too. Hookworms, roundworms and tapeworms are three of the most frequently seen intestinal parasites in our furry friends and all three can be transmitted to humans. The disease caused in people can range in severity with some effects being permanent. Hookworms can infect humans through the skin in a process called cutaneous larval migrans that can have potentially serious and scarring inflammatory results. Roundworm infection in humans can cause visceral larval migrans, where the larvae can migrate to organs of the body and can even cause permanent damage to the eye. Tapeworm infestations, while less serious, can cause diarrhea and irritation. The people at the highest risk are young children and immune suppressed adults, but even healthy adults can be affected.
Prevention in our pets is the best policy to keep all of us safe. This is one of the reasons that annual exams, fecal testing and deworming are not only recommended by your veterinarian but also by the Center for Disease Control. Annual fecal testing will screen for less common intestinal parasites that require more specific treatment, which can include giardia, coccidia and tritrichomonas. Combined with annual deworming, regular flea and heartworm prevention the risk to your pets and loved ones will remain low. Some animals may require more frequent deworming based on their environment and behavior such as hunting or travel to high risk areas. Your veterinarian can discuss this with you and together come up with a parasite prevention plan for your pet.
Because not all parasites respond to the same medication and over the counter products are largely ineffective, your local veterinarian can test for and prescribe appropriate treatments for your pet. It is also important to note that while tapeworms can often be seen in the feces of your pet, roundworms and hookworms may not be visually apparent.
Good personal hygiene and limiting environmental exposure is also important. The main mode of transmission for these parasites is through the stool of infected animals. So avoid dog walk areas where people don’t pick up after their dogs, pick up after your own animal, wash your hands thoroughly after handling pet feces, wear gloves while gardening or working with soil, and keep sand boxes covered to prevent neighborhood cats from using it as a litter box.
With these tips and the help of your veterinarian we can all work together to keep your loved ones safe.