Whipworms, Hookworms and Tapeworms…Oh My!

At some point, your pet may become infected with intestinal parasites. Most intestinal parasites can be prevented with the use of monthly broad-spectrum heartworm medication. This is why VCPI follows the CAPC’s (Companion Animal Parasite Council) recommendation for year round heartworm prevention. However, it is important to be aware that some of these parasites are zoonotic- meaning they can be transmitted from animals to humans. These parasites pose a real risk not only to your furry family members but also to you, and your family members. Below we discuss three common intestinal parasites found in pets, two of them being zoonotic.

Get To Know Whipworms
Whipworms are about ¼ inch long and live in the lower intestinal tract where they cause irritation and damage. These parasites pass eggs into the feces which are passed into the environment where they can live for up to 5 years! . The eggs then mature and can then be ingested by animals where they will re-hatch into adult worms and start the life cycle all over. Whipworms are diagnosed during a microscopic examination of feces by the finding of eggs. However, whipworms pass a small amount of eggs so even though your pet may be infected, a fecal test may come up negative. This is one of that many reasons it is important to have your pet’s feces tested on a regular basis.

Signs of whipworm could include watery, bloody diarrhea, weight loss, anemia, and dehydration. If your pet is diagnosed with whipworm, an anti-parasitic medication will be given. Keep in mind that most heartworm medications contain a drug that helps prevent and treat whipworm which is why it is important to give year round prevention.

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  • Paws to consider: It is important to note that whipworm infections can be asymptomatic (not showing any clinical signs).

Get To Know Hookworms
Hookworms are short, thick worms that are white to reddish brown in color and have a hooked end. These parasites live in the digestive system and attach to the lining of the intestinal wall. Hookworms shed eggs inside of the digestive system and they pass into the environment through your pet’s feces. The eggs hatch and the larvae then live in the soil. Dogs, cats, and people are at risk of being infected with hookworms by ingesting the contaminated feces or by the larvae penetrating the skin. Often times people get hookworms from infected soil as well as children playing in contaminated areas (like sandboxes) with their shoes off.

Signs of hookworm infection in animals include anemia, pale gums, poor hair coat, difficulty putting on weight, dehydration and diarrhea. In people, hookworms show up as red, itchy, serpentine like lesions on the skin. Removing animal feces from the yard promptly, deworming puppies and kittens often, wearing shoes and gloves when gardening, and covering sandboxes when not in use can help prevent hookworm infections. Most heartworm medications contain an ingredient that helps prevent and treat infections, but if infection still occurs, your veterinarian will administer a dewormer to rid your pet of the hookworms.

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  • Paws to consider: Don’t be afraid of the garden! Just wear gloves and remember to wash your hands.

Get To Know Tapeworms
Tapeworms are long, flat worms that attach themselves to the intestinal lining. Their body consists of multiple segments that look like grains of rice, and are passed in feces or get stuck to the hair around the rear end of your pet. These segments contain fertilized eggs that get released into the environment. Eating these eggs cannot infect dogs, cats, or people; they have to be passed via a host, such as a flea or rodent, who has ingested the fertilized eggs. When an animal (or human) ingests an infected host, the eggs inside can then hatch and start the life cycle all over. Again, most heartworm medications prevent and treat tapeworms but if a break through infection happens, it can be treated with a parasiticide.

Paws to consider: Tapeworm segments only pass intermittently and therefore you may not always see the rice like segments in feces. It is important to have your pet’s feces tested regularly to help catch diseases.

Do your part in preventing the spread of intestinal parasites by promptly picking up your pet’s feces when you are out and about. Stop into the clinic today to pick up a pet waste bag dispenser.

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