Hookworm, Roundworm, Tapeworm, and Whipworm
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Hookworm, Roundworm, Tapeworm, and Whipworm
Parasites are fairly common among pets with some being more dangerous than others. Young animals are most susceptible to parasite infestation due to their immature immune system, but even healthy adults can be affected. Many common parasites are contracted by ingesting infected soil, water, bodily waste, or an infected host such as a bird or rodent. The parasites can also be transmitted across the placenta while babies are still in the womb, by ingesting an infected mother’s milk, or by eating infected fleas while self-grooming. Some parasites can even burrow through skin to infect a pet!
To determine if a pet has a worm infestation, the veterinarian will usually perform a fecal floatation exam. Due to the risk of some of these parasites potentially infecting people, we recommend having our office check a fecal sample on your pet every 6-12 months. During this exam a stool sample is placed in a special solution that causes the fecal matter to sink and any parasite eggs to float, allowing the veterinarian to collect a sample of the eggs and examine them further under a microscope. Once under a microscope, the veterinarian will be able to determine the exact type of worm contaminating a pet.
Treatment for worm parasites is often a simple medication prescribed by the veterinarian, however some parasites may be more difficult to get rid of. Prescriptions vary depending on the level of infection as well as the type of parasite. Some medications will only kill adult worms, so a combination of dewormers or a series of multiple doses might be prescribed.
Pet owners should remain cautious because some parasites will be killed off by dewormers, but can remain dormant within the host, reappearing during times of stress or when a mother gets pregnant.
Keeping kennel areas clean, controlling rodents, and testing females prior to breeding can all help prevent the spread of parasites. Heartworm preventatives that are obtained through our office also contain an ingredient for parasite prevention, which is another important reason to keep your dogs and cats on year-round heartworm prevention.
Symptoms of a worm parasite in pets can include:
• Bloody stools.
• Itching around anus.
• Pale tongue, gums, and nose.
• Pot-bellied appearance
• Visible worms in vomit or stool.
• Weight loss.
• Some pets show no outward symptoms but may still be able to transmit parasites to other pets and people.
Additional details about the most common parasitic worms follow. If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms, please contact our office and schedule an appointment today.
Hookworms are small, thin worms that attach to the small intestine and live off the host’s blood and tissue. They are most common in warm, humid geographical areas and most often infect puppies, though they are capable of contaminating older dogs and cats as well. Eggs are shed in an infected pet’s stools, causing concern for multi-pet households.
Humans are capable of contracting hookworms from their pets, especially children and people that may be immunocompromised. Hookworms penetrate human flesh and migrate, causing a small red, itchy patch of skin; they eventually die off.
Many kittens and puppies are born with roundworms and contract the infection from the mother’s tissues or the mother’s milk. These worms live primarily in the intestinal tract, growing up to 5 inches in length. The immature roundworms often migrate through the lungs, causing a cough. Roundworm eggs are passed in the feces, and are coated in a hard shell that allows them to survive for years in soil and on other surfaces, potentially re-infecting your pet for a prolonged period of time.
Roundworms can also infect humans and the most common cases are among children. When not treated immediately, they can cause severe damage to a human host and can even cause blindness.
Tapeworms are white in color with a long, segmented body. They live in the digestive tract by burrowing their head into the intestinal lining. With their body left floundering downstream, the worm is able to absorb nutrients as they pass through the intestinal tract.
Dogs and cats most commonly contract tapeworms by ingesting an infected flea while grooming themselves, so it is important to keep your dogs and cats on flea preventative.
Humans can be infected with tapeworms, but usually do not contract them from their pets. The most common way people are exposed to tapeworms is through undercooked meat, especially pork.
Whipworms are reasonably common in our area, and dogs of all ages can be affected. They are small and have a whip-like body with a narrow head that gets progressively larger towards the tail. These parasites attach to the walls of the large intestine and survive by feeding on the host’s blood. Whipworms can survive for years within their host as well as in soil, food, water, and on animal flesh. Some dogs may get diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms from whipworm infestation, but some may show no symptoms at all and still shed eggs in their feces.
If you have any further questions about parasitic worms, feel free to contact our office.