Have you ever wondered why your veterinarian wants to check a sample of your pet’s poop? Well, a big reason is to look for evidence of parasites that could be living in your pet’s intestinal tract. Many intestinal parasites pose risks to your pet’s health and some can also pose a health risk to humans. Parasites are especially common in this area due to our sub-tropical climate.
When you pick up your new puppy or kitten, there is always a chance that it may ALREADY have intestinal worms. This is because the worm larval forms migrate inside the mother in her blood stream and will pass to the un-born puppy or kitten in the uterus. They can also then pass via the mother’s milk to the newborn! Puppies and kittens have not yet developed a strong immune system so they are more susceptible to illness from parasites than adult animals are.
Here’s what you need to know about some common parasites and how to help protect your pet from them.
What are the signs of intestinal parasites?
Signs of parasites can vary depending on the type of parasite involved, the number of worms and the age and health status of the pet. Signs can vary from none in the early stages to any of the following: constipation, diarrhea, flatulence (passing gas), lethargy, pale gums, poor growth rate, a potbellied appearance, scooting on the rear end, vomiting, weakness and weight loss.
What parasites commonly infect puppies and kittens?
Hookworms– These small worms attach to the intestinal walls and ingest blood. Heavy infections can cause severe blood loss, anemia and pale gums. Pets can pick this parasite up from soil contaminated by hookworm eggs or larvae. Eggs ingested during grooming or licking develop into adult worms in the digestive tract, where they produce eggs that are passed out with the feces. When feces are left on the ground, the eggs contaminate the soil to potentially infect more pets and people. Hookworm larvae can penetrate the skin, so walking barefoot across the yard or playing in contaminated sandboxes or dirt can put children and adults at risk of infection.
Roundworms– Roundworms are one of the most common parasites found in the digestive tract in dogs and cats. Roundworms interfere with absorption and digestion of nutrients. Puppies can be born with roundworms, and puppies and kittens can become infected while nursing so it is very important to start deworming pups and kittens at a young age. This parasite’s eggs are passed out with the feces and can contaminate the soil, so your pet could become reinfected.
Whipworms —Dogs can pick up this parasite, which is 1- to 2-inches long, by walking or playing in soil contaminated by whipworm eggs. Eggs ingested during grooming or licking develop into adult worms in the large intestine. Adult worms produce eggs that are passed out with the feces and can contaminate the soil. This parasite is rare in cats.
Tapeworms– These large, segmented worms may cause your pet to scoot on his rear end, and you may see segments of the worm in the feces or around your pet’s anal area. The immature stage of certain tapeworms can be carried inside fleas. So if your dog or cat has fleas and chews or bites, fleas can be ingested, leading to infection with tapeworms.
Treating Intestinal Parasites
Parasite prevention is extremely important in Florida. Your puppy or kitten should start on heartworm/flea/intestinal parasite control medication as early as eight weeks of age. Because roundworms and hookworms are so common in puppies and kittens, they are routinely dewormed at each of their preventive care visits. A stool sample is also checked to see if any other parasites are present that may require other medications. In addition to treating for parasites, we strongly recommend starting a parasite prevention protocol, such as monthly treatment with Sentinel, Trifexis or Simparica Trio for dogs, or Revolution Plus for cats.