By Dr. Laura Carpenter, Veterinarian
You may have noticed your veterinarian requesting a stool sample as part of the annual wellness visit or when your pet has a gastrointestinal problem. Why on earth is your veterinarian so keen on pet poop? Because most of our companions will harbor a parasite at one point or another in their life.
A few of the parasites our favorite furry creatures can carry are:
Where do fecal parasites come from?
Roundworms are commonly passed from mother to young thanks to a common hormone driven release of dormant worms that medicine has yet to figure out how to stop. Hookworms can live in the soil and cause infection through ingestion or they can penetrate the skin to gain access. Whipworms can also live in soil. Some parasites can be ingested through contaminated water or ingestion of prey or fleas. Even potting soil from indoor plants can carry parasites on occasion.
What signs might my pet show?
Some pets show no symptoms at all and serve to spread parasites around the community if left untreated. Other pets may have a variety of gastrointestinal ailments. Rarely, you may simply see parasites in stool or vomit. In some instances, pets may have other signs like coughing if the parasites are migrating through organs outside of the digestive tract.
Can people get parasites from a pet?
Unfortunately, humans can become infected with parasites from our pets. Children are the most at risk due to poor hygiene practices (we really should wash our hands before we eat!) and higher likelihood of playing in areas where pets defecate (dirt in the yard, sandboxes, etc.) Adults can come down with parasites as well. Even walking barefoot where an infected animal has defecated can result in hookworms in the feet of an unsuspecting person. Ick!! In rare cases, parasites may infect a person and migrate through the body causing damage to organs. For example, there have been case reports of children who have been rendered blind due to roundworm infection. Parasites can also affect the lungs, heart, brain, and other internal organs in people.
What can I do?
Adequate parasite prevention requires a several pronged approach. First, puppies and kittens should receive routine dewormers, typically bi-weekly, starting at 2-4 weeks of age. If you have a litter, your veterinarian can help you formulate a protocol. Second, all new pets in the house should have a fecal exam performed by their veterinarian as soon as possible, before they’ve had the chance to infect the household, property, or existing pets. Third, a monitoring program is established. Pets less than 1 year of age should ideally have a fecal exam done 2 times in the first year. Older pets should be checked 1-2 times a year. Fecal samples should be a fresh morning sample to ensure accurate results. Fourth, all pets should be on adequate, year-round parasite prevention. This is often present in your monthly heart worm medication (it’s not just for heart worms!). Ask your veterinarian if the monthly medication your pet takes is good for certain intestinal parasites as well. Lastly, practice good hygiene and teach your children good hygiene. Pick up your pet’s stools promptly and dispose of them properly! These steps are all necessary to ensure the safety of your pet, your family, and your community.
For more information please visit http://www.petsandparasites.org/. Give us a call us at 410.768.3620 if you have any questions or wish to schedule an appointment. You can also click here to schedule an appointment online.