When your furry pal gives you a big smooch on the lips, you likely think nothing of it, and simply wipe away the slobber. But, those sloppy kisses can contain intestinal parasites that commonly affect cats and dogs, and can be transmitted to other pets—and their owners—through the fecal-oral route (i.e., when ingestion of contaminated feces occurs). A too-friendly kiss from your pup who was digging in the litter box can cause parasite transmission, as can fixing yourself a sandwich after forgetting to wash your hands when you cleaned up your pet’s waste.
Although you and any pets in your home are at risk for contracting intestinal parasites, you can guard your family against parasitic infections by practicing good hygiene, cleaning up after your pet, and maintaining a proper deworming routine. However, a small gap in protection can expose your family to the following common gastrointestinal parasites.
Roundworms in pets
When you bring home a new puppy or kitten, you may notice spaghetti-like worms in their stool, especially if they are not dewormed. These stringy worms, known as roundworms, are one of the most common intestinal parasites that affect pets.
- Transmission routes: Puppies and kittens can become infected with roundworms while still in utero, and also through nursing from an infected mother. Pets who ingest infective roundworm eggs in the environment will develop a roundworm infection, shed more parasite eggs, and further spread the infection.
- Signs: Young pets with roundworms often have poor body condition and fail to thrive. Infected pets may have a dull coat and appear potbellied, and may pass worms in their feces or vomit. Severe cases can cause diarrhea. People who contract roundworms can experience gastrointestinal and respiratory issues, and may suffer from neurologic or ocular problems as the worms migrate through the body.
- Treatment and prevention: Puppies and kittens are generally dewormed several times to ensure potential roundworms are eradicated in all life stages, and then kept on a monthly prevention plan to avoid an infection. Adult pets with roundworm infections are easily treated, and then kept on monthly prevention. However, roundworm eggs are especially hardy and can survive in the soil for years, despite exposure to sun, rain, and extreme temperatures. Prevent reinfection by practicing good hygiene and keeping your pet on a prevention product.
Whipworms in pets
Whipworms are threadlike worms that can reach up to three inches in length, but they’re usually difficult to spot in your pet’s stool, since they attach firmly to the intestinal wall.
- Transmission routes: Whipworms are transmitted via the fecal-oral route, meaning a pet must ingest infective eggs from their environment.
- Signs: Mild infections generally cause few, if any, signs, whereas heavier infections can lead to weight loss and diarrhea. Severe infections may cause anemia, and fresh blood may be seen in the stool.
- Treatment and prevention: Although whipworm eggs are hardy and capable of surviving for years in the environment, they are susceptible to desiccation. They can be controlled through good sanitation, and by keeping your pet’s elimination area clean and dry.
Tapeworms in pets
Tapeworm segments, which look like small grains of rice, can be spotted in your pet’s stool or clinging to their hind end.
- Transmission routes: Most house pets contract tapeworms through ingestion of fleas, which carry tapeworm eggs. However, pets who venture outdoors and eat small mammals or other infected wildlife can also contract a tapeworm infection.
- Signs: Tapeworms rarely cause serious disease, but can be responsible for the pet’s failure to digest and absorb food normally.
- Treatment and prevention: Once tapeworms are treated with medication, keeping your pet on a year-round flea preventive will help avoid future infections. In addition, keep your cat indoors to prevent them from hunting prey that could be a source of tapeworm infections.
Hookworms in pets
Hookworms are small, and attach firmly to the intestinal wall, so you rarely see them in your pet’s stool. The different hookworm species can cause your pet infection with varying severity, with signs dependent on your pet’s age.
- Transmission routes: Puppies and kittens can contract hookworms from their mother while nursing. Pets of any age can develop a hookworm infection after ingesting hookworm larvae from the environment, or by skin penetration.
- Signs: Pets with certain hookworm species can develop anemia and bloody diarrhea, or skin irritation and dermatitis if hookworm larvae penetrate the skin. Hookworms can also infect people through skin penetration.
- Treatment and prevention: Many treatments are available to eradicate a hookworm infection, and some heartworm preventives also control some hookworm species. If your environment is contaminated, sodium borate can help eliminate hookworm eggs and larvae.
Coccidia in pets
Coccidia are tiny, single-celled parasites that live in your pet’s intestinal tract, and are specific to their chosen host (i.e., your dog cannot give coccidia to your cat and vice versa).
- Transmission routes: Infection occurs by ingesting species-specific coccidia in soil or feces.
- Signs: Infected young pets are more at risk for serious issues, and may display weight loss, dehydration, and diarrhea that is sometimes bloody.
- Treatment and prevention: Coccidia does not have as many available treatment options as roundworms and other intestinal parasites, but medication and good sanitation practices can help eradicate this parasite.
Giardia in pets
Giardia is a chronic, intestinal protozoal infection that can infect many different species, including people. However, most giardia strains stick with their chosen species, so cross-infection between species is rare.
- Transmission routes: Ingestion of Giardia cysts through fecal-contaminated food and water are the most common transmission methods. Pets can also contract Giardia through self-grooming, or from grooming infected pets.
- Signs: Giardia infections may cause no signs, or lead to chronic, intermittent diarrhea.
- Treatment and prevention: No medications are approved for Giardia treatment in the U.S., but some medications can be used separately or together to help reduce the shedding of Giardia cysts. Infected environments are difficult to decontaminate, but immediately picking up your pet’s waste can help.
Proper hygiene and parasite prevention can help keep you and your furry pal safe from contracting intestinal parasites. Contact our University Veterinary Hospital team to discuss the best parasite prevention options for your pet.