Worms – ugh! Few things disgust us more than intestinal worms in our companion animals. There are several types of parasites that we see in dogs and cats. The most frequent problem is roundworms in puppies and kittens. They can be very dramatic – when a 10 pound puppy vomits a 4 inch roundworm it gets your attention. This is the reason your veterinarian has you bring a sample of your pet’s stool to the office. Since the adult worms only pass occasionally the sample is checked under the microscope for worm eggs.
If your puppy or kitten has roundworms (very common) there are very effective safe medicines to treat them. One very important note is to clean up any stools so that the eggs are removed from the environment. Children can actually ingest the eggs inadvertently, and this can cause serious problems. If you have a sandbox outside for your kids it is best to cover it when not in use so that stray cats do not use it as a litter box.
There are 3 other types of worms that are commonly seen in domestic pets. These include whipworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. Whips and hooks are transmitted from 1 pet to another through the eggs in the stool. You rarely see the adult parasites, but both can cause diarrhea, weight loss, and other signs. We see the eggs in the stool samples. There are very effective oral medicines to treat these problems.
Tapeworms are spread in a different manner. The most common tapeworm is spread by fleas. You often see a segment of the adult worm on the stool or stuck to the pet’s anal area. You must control the fleas to ultimately control this type of tapeworm. There is both oral medicine and an injection to kill the parasites. There are other tapeworms that pets can contract by hunting. This is most common in outdoor cats that hunt rodents. Tapeworms do not always show on a fecal exam since the segments pass periodically. If you see something suspicious talk to your veterinarian or their staff.
When we check stool samples we also check for microscopic parasites such as giardia and coccidia. Giardia is common in wild animals, and the cysts are often present in puddles, ponds, and streams.. Campers often get giardia from drinking from rivers or streams that look clean otherwise. It is not fun to have the parasite – so use caution if you are in the wild.
Preventing many parasites is now highly recommended. Most heartworm preventive medicines also prevent some of the intestinal parasites. This not only helps keep your pet safe, but it also greatly reduces the chance of roundworm eggs getting in the environment. One of our duties as veterinarians is to protect the human population from diseases that can be spread from animals to people (zoonotic diseases). Take your companion in to see your veterinarian yearly, and have a stool sample checked at that time.