Many pet owners are very diligent about flea and tick prevention, since they are external parasites that can be seen. However, many pet owners are unaware of the importance of intestinal parasite prevention because often they cannot be seen. We ask pet owners for a fecal sample from their companions every six months to screen for intestinal parasites. Although many of us would love to not carry a stool sample all the way to the vet, it is a very important preventive care practice for the health of the pet and the family. Zoonotic disease (disease transferred from animals to humans) is possible with several common intestinal parasites in cats and dogs. Most cases of zoonotic parasite transmission occur in children, since they have less awareness of hand-to-mouth hygiene than adults.
Roundworms, hookworms, and Giardia are intestinal parasites that can be transmitted to humans from pets. These parasites can be obtained from any contact with other pets, as well as wildlife feces and from hunting in cats. Roundworms and hookworms are the most common zoonotic intestinal parasites, with Giardia being less common. Giardia is an intestinal parasite that infects both humans and animals, and is more often contracted in humans by drinking contaminated water from streams or underdeveloped water treatment systems than from pets. We routinely diagnose Giardia in our dog and cat patients. Coccidia, whipworms, and tapeworms are non-zoonotic parasites that can have effects on the individual pet, but cannot be transmitted to humans. All intestinal parasite infections will have ill effects on your pet’s health if left untreated. Even though many intestinal parasite infestations are asymptomatic, if left untreated, pets will experience chronic intestinal inflammation, which causes impaired nutrient absorption and destruction of the lining of the intestine. Common symptoms of parasites are diarrhea (constant or intermittent), weight loss, unkempt hair coat, and sometimes seeing the parasites in the case of roundworms and tapeworms. All other intestinal parasites are microscopic and cannot be seen with the naked eye, which is why fecal tests are so important to detect the parasites.
In addition to fecal tests every 6 months, we also recommend a broad-spectrum deworming medication every 6 months, as well as year-round monthly oral heartworm prevention that also provides some intestinal parasite protection. Northern Virginia has a mild, humid climate that is very hospitable to parasites, which is why year-round treatment is recommended. Deworming medications in addition to regular fecal exams are the best way to guarantee a pet is consistently free of parasites. Furthermore, it is important to keep your dog from eating feces from other pets and wildlife, as well as keeping them from drinking contaminated water from puddles, ponds, and streams. All of these are potential sources of parasites that can easily be prevented. It is also extremely important to immediately clean up all stools from your pets not only for the environment, but also for stopping the spread of intestinal parasites to other pets.
As you hopefully now agree, intestinal parasite prevention is a very important aspect of preventive care in our pets. If you have any concerns or questions about intestinal parasites, please contact your family veterinarian or the Animal Medical Center of Cascades. Our staff will gladly assist with any questions or concerns you may have. We always look forward to seeing your pets healthy and happy!