How do dogs get intestinal parasites?
Dogs can contract intestinal parasites via different routes. Parasites are usually transmitted when an animal inadvertently ingests parasite eggs or spores in contaminated soil, water, feces, or food. In the case of tapeworms, they can also be transmitted when a dog eats an infected flea. Puppies, on the other hand, usually get intestinal parasites from their mother. Transmission can occur in utero or from nursing.
Why should you care?
Intestinal parasites can cause malnutrition, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, and anemia. Besides making our pets sick, many of these parasites can affect people. 34% of all dogs in the US are believed to have some type of intestinal parasite, and according to the CDC, 14% of people have been infected with the toxocara, a roundworm commonly found in dogs. Although most people are asymptomatic, approximately 700 people, usually children, lose vision due to toxocara infections every year.
How do you know if your dog has parasites?
While external parasites like fleas and ticks are easy to spot, intestinal parasites are rarely seen because they live inside your pet’s intestinal tract and pass microscopic eggs or spores in your pet’s stool that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. Tapeworms are one exception. They shed segments that resemble sesame seeds or grains of rice and are typically seen in your pet’s stool or around their rectum. Roundworms are another exception since they may occasionally be seen in your pet’s vomit or stool. Nevertheless, intestinal parasites are difficult to spot and you should not rely on seeing them before taking your dog to the veterinarian. Even if you actually do look at your dog’s stool on a regular basis, do you know what to look for?
Besides being hard to detect, many dogs infected with intestinal parasites are asymptomatic. Even symptomatic dogs may go undetected because their symptoms can be nonspecific. The most common signs and symptoms of intestinal parasites are scooting, vomiting, diarrhea, a distended abdomen, weight loss, and occasionally coughing. Since dogs infected with intestinal parasites can exhibit no symptoms or subtle symptoms that can be easily overlooked, the best way to ensure that your dog is parasite-free is to take your pet to their veterinarian at least once a year for check-ups. Your veterinarian will examine your dog and perform a test called a fecal flotation. A fecal flotation allows your veterinarian to diagnose intestinal parasites by looking for microscopic eggs or spores in your pet’s stool. These should be done annually to ensure your dog is free from parasites.
How can you protect your pets?
While the thought that your pet may have intestinal parasites may give you the heebie-jeebies, fortunately, intestinal parasites are treatable and even easier to prevent. In fact, many people are already protecting their pets and family from intestinal parasites and don’t even know about it. Did you know that monthly heartworm medication is also a broad dewormer that protects your pets not only from heartworm disease but also from many intestinal parasites? If your dog is not already on monthly parasite preventatives, take them to your veterinarian to discuss how you can protect your pets and family from intestinal parasites. The same is true before you bring a new pet into the household. It is important to have them checked by your veterinarian so that they do not expose your other pets or family to parasites. Although intestinal parasites are treatable, remember that the best way to protect your pets against parasites is to keep them on parasite preventatives and have their stool check at least once a year.
For more information about parasites and how to protect your pets and family go to www.petsandparasites.