Internal parasites found in pets

An unwelcome and invisible guest may be residing in your pet. If a pet is hosting a dangerous parasite party, it is important to understand and know the different types of internal parasites so you can act quickly. These parasites actually live inside the animal host. This gives new meaning to host and guest, more like being a leech for nutritional gain and as a result compromising the health of the unlucky host.

Most people think parasites manifest themselves as worms in animals. The common worms are roundworms, hookworms, whip worms, heart worm and tapeworms. No matter how you say it, a slow chill works it way up your spine.

This writers new puppy, a Belgian Tervuren, nine-weeks-old, came complete with a host of different worms infecting his tiny body. The veterinarian said this was the worst case of worms they’d ever seen and it took weeks to supposedly clean out his system. It is this writers opinion because of this infestation, health problems occurred later on and not all of the worms left his system. At the age of four and a half years, after yearly clean stool samples, he again was infected with hookworm, roundworm, and whip worm.

Other organisms infiltrating an animals body are giardia, a common word amongst dog owners, and coccidia, both causing digestive upset. Parasites set up residence in many areas of the body to include the heart, intestinal tract, even the brain, all to the health detriment of its unsuspecting host. Parasites can even be life threatening.

A fecal sample is usually taken yearly to a veterinarian as a part of the annual exam to determine what parasites are present in the animal. This is because parasites show themselves in feces, around the anus, and in the pet’s bedding. Signs will manifest itself in a variety of clues from a decrease in appetite to diarrhea.

How many types of parasites exist

There are seven common parasites: hookworm, roundworm, whip worm, tapeworm, giardia, coccidiosis, and heart worm. In addition to these in dogs and cats, cats can also have flukes, and pin worms. Flukes can infest the liver, lungs and small intestines. This is one good argument for keeping a cat indoors, because fluke can become an unwelcome guest through the drinking of contaminated water or eating of rodents or even birds. Raw fish is another culprit. Pin worms penetrate the skin and provide another good reason to keep your cat indoors.

• Hookworm

While more common in young dogs and cats, this writers four and a half year old Belgian Tervuren had them. These are scary worms as they can travel to the brain and cause seizure activity. The adult hookworm resides in the host’s small intestine. The eggs pass out with the stool and is why the veterinarian is able to identify this parasite through a fecal sample.

Infestation occurs by eating the eggs or larvae, penetration of footpads or skin by the larvae or in puppies through transmission from the mother to the fetus while pregnant or nursing. If your animal takes walks in the forest, or goes to a lot of different environments to include parks or roadsides, a fecal sample should be tested frequently even up to four times per year.

People can contract this parasite’s larvae which penetrates the skin causing a problematic skin malady ‘cutaneous larval migrans’ or ‘creeping eruption’. While the animal is being treated for hookworm no one should be barefoot for five to seven days. Hookworm consists of two treatments, an initial medication and a follow-up treatment three weeks later, which is the case for most worm treatments.

Physical description of the worms as they pass through and out of the animal’s system can be described as spaghetti-like. An unwelcome guest is evicted in the feces of the animal.

• Roundworm

Roundworms are very common and also reside in the small intestine with eggs being passed through the stool. Dog’s and cat’s mouths are always to the ground, getting into all sorts of questionable things and while their systems are quite different from humans, ingestion of parasites knows no immunity.

Roundworm infestation can cause poor hair coat, diarrhea, ill-thrift, pot-bellied appearance in puppies or kittens and secondary bacterial pneumonia. Ill-thrift is nutritional deficiencies from the inability to process vitamins and minerals through the system even though food is plentiful. An animal will look thin or ill as its body cannot process nutrition properly through its system. Bacterial pneumonia can cause illness and death. It is an inflammation of the lungs and more common in dogs caused by inhaling bacteria. This writer has seen roundworms vomited and in the stool of their host. Icky doesn’t begin to describe it, and treatment must be done using a deworming medication from the veterinarian in an initial dose and a three-week follow-up.

Roundworm can also be transferred to a human host and can affect various organs in the body.

• Whip Worm

Whip worms are not egg-layers in the sense of roundworms and hookworms and are harder to diagnose. Weight loss and diarrhea may indicate infestation.

• Tapeworm

Intestines are breeding grounds for worms of all types, and tapeworm is no exception to the rule. Luckily, the eggs pass through and into the stool so easy diagnosis can be made. Unlike the spaghetti strings of hookworm, tapeworm is more like rice. Fleas are a main cause of tapeworm, and so control is achieved through flea prevention. Tapeworm is rarely a problem for people.

• Giardia

This has become so common veterinarians have a vaccination for it. It is a protozoan and can affect all types of animals. This writer teaches her dogs not to drink out of puddles especially while in the forest as this is where giardia may reside. Having clean bottled water with you at all times prevents your dog from becoming so thirsty they resort to drinking out of puddles, lakes or oceans. Again the home is the small intestine. Once infected the incubation period can be up to two weeks.

• Coccidiosis

This is usually due to unsanitary living conditions and is common in young and immune-suppressed animals. Toxoplasma is a coccidial parasite infecting cats. If women are exposed to Toxoplasma during pregnancy their baby can have serious congenital problems. However, aside from that it is not contagious until it has sporulated after being shed in the feces, which occurs about three days after the stool is shed.

• Heart Worm

Heart worm is a major unwanted guest residing in the heart, lungs and vessels. These worms can block blood flow and cause death. In most parts of the country heart worm medication is needed, except in the Pacific Northwest where heart worm is an uncommon occurrence.

Signs are coughing, exercise intolerance, shortness of breath, vomiting and even death especially in cats.

How do you avoid these nasty and unwelcome guests

Regular fecal examinations of house animals is advised, at least once a year, but if your animal frequents the outdoors beyond your yard, or you have wildlife coming into your yard, you should consider two, three, even four times a year sampling.

Cleanliness is paramount. Removal of stools from lawn daily is a requirement to having a clean and healthy animal.

Stay away from rest areas to potty your dogs, you cannot be sure what arrived before you did. Even dog parks and dog-walking areas are suspect. In a local children’s park, this writer witnessed a dump of hookworm in the parking lot enough to send you running back to your car and going home.

Keep animals away from prey such as mice, rats and rabbits, which are carriers of worms. Even the common earthworm you see that Robin munching on every spring can be a host for roundworm infection.

Keep animals free of fleas.

Parasites are lurking and want to find a host. It is absolutely necessary for their survival. Make sure your pet isn’t hosting any bad parasite parties.