Most pet owners don’t exactly get excited when asked to bring a stool sample to their pet’s next veterinary visit, and we aren’t all that excited to examine your pet’s poop (trust us). But, fecal exams are an important part of your pet’s regular preventive care visits and can help us determine if she is suffering from intestinal parasites, which can be deadly. Many of these are also transmitted to humans and can harm us.
Here are four of the most common intestinal parasites:
Roundworms are common parasites that can be found in dogs, cats, and people of all ages. They are spread through soil contaminated with feces, so children who play in sandboxes or at playgrounds are at increased risk of infection.
Adult roundworms live and reproduce in the intestines of infected individuals. Roundworm eggs are spread into the environment through the feces of infected animals. Other pets can become infected with the parasite by eating the eggs from the contaminated soil, which can occur when pets groom themselves, eat grass or other objects touching the feces, or sniff or lick the ground. Pets can also be infected when they eat other animals that are infected, like birds or rodents.
Some signs of a roundworm infection in pets include:
- Upset stomach
- Weight loss or failure to gain weight
- Dull, thin coat
A roundworm infection can be diagnosed when microscopic roundworm eggs are found during a fecal exam. For some pets who don’t receive regular veterinary care, their roundworm infection might not be discovered until a pet owner sees live roundworms in the pet’s vomit or feces.
Some monthly heartworm preventive medications can also help to prevent and control roundworms.
Hookworms are potentially fatal intestinal parasites that attach to the lining of the intestinal wall and feed on the blood of the infected animal. Although rare, hookworm infections can also occur in humans.
Animals can become infected with hookworms when they eat or drink something that has been contaminated with hookworm larvae or when hookworm larvae penetrate the skin. The infection can also be passed from a nursing mother to her offspring.
Animals infected with hookworms might exhibit:
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Pale lining of the nostrils, lips, and ears (caused by internal blood loss)
- Overall unhealthy appearance
- Dark, tarry stool
- Sudden death
Since hookworms cannot be seen with the naked eye, a fecal exam is necessary for a proper diagnosis.
To help prevent your pet from getting a hookworm infection, keep her environment clean and avoid areas with stagnant water.
More commonly seen in dogs than in cats, whipworm infections are spread through the ingestion of contaminated food, water, or the meat of another animal. Whipworms can affect pets of any age.
Pets suffering from a whipworm infection might experience:
- Bloody diarrhea
- Anemia (low red blood cell count)
- Weight loss
Whipworms cannot be seen with the naked eye. To diagnose a whipworm infection, we will perform a fecal flotation procedure on your pet’s stool sample.
The most effective way to prevent a whipworm infection is to keep your pet’s environment as clean as possible and to avoid placing your dog or cat in an area crowded with other pets.
Tapeworm infections occur when an animal ingests tapeworm eggs or larvae by eating another host, most commonly fleas, but also rabbits, birds, or rodents.
As a tapeworm grows in the body, pieces of it will break off into segments and pass into the intestines. Sometimes the pieces will be large enough to see in the pet’s stool, but sometimes they will be too small to be seen with the naked eye.
Signs of a tapeworm infection include:
- Dried, white- or cream-colored pieces (might resemble cucumber seeds or rice) in feces or in the fur under the tail
- Excessive licking or biting at the anus or scooting across the floor (because the area is itchy and irritated)
Keeping your pet free from fleas and away from dead animals and garbage will help prevent a tapeworm infection.
Since pets carrying these parasites also pose a risk to other pets and family members, it is imperative to get your pet tested for these worms annually. If your dog or cat is suffering from an intestinal parasite, we will use the appropriate medications to kill the worms, and the prognosis is generally good if the parasite is discovered early.
Questions about intestinal parasites? Has it been more than a year since your pet’s last fecal exam? Call our office to keep everyone in your family worm free.