Well, we may be squeamish discussing your pet’s bowel movements but it is a very important part of keeping them healthy and keeping the people they live with healthy too. Not all pets carrying parasites appear sick. They may have perfectly normal bowel movements and yet they can be harboring parasites that will continue to reproduce and eventually affect them by causing gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and / or poor hair coats. The parasites can cause inflammation or blood loss and use the nutrients your pet would normally benefit from for themselves. Some of the common parasites pets carry are zoonotic, meaning they can be spread to the people they live with.
What can be in the poop? The common parasites OCVH veterinarians look for are:
-Giardia (a single-celled organism, not a worm)
-Coccidia (a single-celled organism, not a worm)
But, if you don’t see any worms his stool is fine, right? Wrong. Most parasites are diagnosed by finding their eggs in the stool sample after it has been mixed with a special liquid, spun down in a centrifuge and then examined under a microscope. (Illustrated left to right are Hookworm, Whipworm and Roundworm eggs.)
Occasionally, a worm load will be high enough that a puppy or kitten may actually vomit some worms up and then it is easy to see them at home. Or, in the case of the Tapeworm, segments of the worm may look like grains of rice stuck near the rectum/tail or where the animal has been resting. Sometimes these segments may appear like wiggling maggots on a freshly deposited bowel movement.
How do pets get parasites? Most of them can be caught by ingesting infected feces from another animal or being in contact with contaminated water, grass and soil that contain parasite eggs or larvae. Hookworms and Roundworms can also be transmitted from nursing dog or cat moms to their babies. Hunting and eating prey can also spread parasites from wild animals to our pets.
Some pets have higher risks than others, but even pampered pets can come in contact with parasites at the dog park, in the backyard or meeting someone on a walk and doing the usual dog greeting of examining each other’s hind ends! Special mention here to the Tapeworm which is unique. It is not spread by the above methods, but rather when your pet ingests an infected flea while grooming itself.
What should I do so this doesn’t happen in my house? Puppies and kittens should be dewormed for Hookworms and Roundworms starting at 2 weeks of age and then every 2 weeks until they reach an age to start monthly preventatives.
At least once a year bring a fresh stool sample to the office so it can be tested for the parasites above. The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends stool testing 1-2 times a year for adult pets and 2-4 times for pets less than a year old. Use monthly dewormers. These are included in the monthly Heartworm pill your pet takes. Heartgard Plus prevents Roundworms and Hookworms. Trifexis Heartworm and Fleas medication treats those same worms and also prevents Whipworms. Revolution is a topical once a month Heartworm medication that will also prevent Roundworms and Hookworms too (both dogs and cats). Use monthly flea prevention (Vectra, Frontline, Trifexis, Comfortis, Revolution) to avoid Tapeworms. Regularly and frequently clean up of feces in the litterbox or backyard. Don’t let dogs drink from standing water sources or eat grass during walks.
How do I protect the people in my house? What can I catch? Following the recommendations above is a big step towards reducing the parasite exposure of your pet and your home. Normal hygiene, like handwashing and not allowing pets to lick our mouth area or share food items, is also very helpful. Who is at the greatest risk for getting parasites? The little people in the house. The ones who don’t wash their hands unless told and who frequently put fingers in their mouths. The ones who may walk barefoot in the backyard. (Hookworms can crawl through our skin when they are in larval or baby worm stage.) Another risk factor for children are uncovered sandboxes that outdoor cats may use as a litterbox.
The parasites that are zoonotic are Hookworms, Roundworms and some Giardia. Signs can be hard to recognize until late in the game and by then can cause severe health problems.
Your biggest defenses against these parasites is making sure your pet takes monthly preventatives, has regular stool sample checks and by keeping your environment clear of feces and sandboxes in your yard covered. For more information go to CAPCVET.ORG or ask one of our doctors.
Lorri Mitchell DVM