■ Metro Service / Contributed
Cats and dogs are beloved members of the family, and when they aren’t feeling well, it can put a damper on all family activities. Parasites can be a problem for companion animals. Fortunately for family pets, parasites are highly treatable.
It is quite common for pets to become affected by external or internal parasites in their lifetimes. Fleas and ticks are examples of external parasites that feed on animals, and these same parasites may serve as intermediate hosts for other parasites that will develop internally. The internal parasites commonly seen in cats and dogs manifest themselves as worms in various parts of the body. The areas most affected include the intestinal tract and the circulatory system.
According to The Companion Animal Parasite Council, an independent council of veterinarians, veterinary parasitologists and other animal health care professionals, there are a number of intestinal worms that can infect dogs and cats, and they vary according to the species. These include hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, and roundworms. Heartworms affect the heart, lungs and blood vessels.
Worms are quite prolific and can produce more than 100,000 eggs per day. These eggs are excreted through feces and can affect other animals in the area. Some pet parasites also can cause health problems in humans. Therefore, it is best for pet owners to educate themselves about parasites and make sure that pets get their immunizations, medications and checkups they need to remain healthy.
Roundworms: Roundworms are the most common parasitic worm found inside dogs. They are contracted in different ways, but dogs usually get them as puppies when their mother passes on roundworm larvae through the uterus. Larvated eggs also can be eaten from the environment or if a pet eats a small mammal infected by roundworms. Roundworms may be seen in fecal matter and will require treatment. Roundworms may be passed to humans and contracted through contact with feces or soil where feces has been left standing.
Heartworms: Heartworm is a potentially fatal disease. Although it can affect both cats and dogs, it’s rare in cats. Heartworms are transmitted through mosquitoes. Microscopic worms infiltrate the animal’s bloodstream and migrate to other areas of the body. Dogs can get hundreds of worms in their bodies, and heartworms can greatly affect the their overall health and quality of life. Cats may only get a handful of worms, and these worms do not live to adulthood.
Hookworms: Another parasite more common in dogs than cats, hookworms fasten to the walls of the small intestines and suck blood. They can be contracted from contaminated soil or passed to a puppy from mother’s milk.
Tapeworms: Tapeworm is transmitted to dogs (and cats) that ingest fleas. They’re noticed when end segments of the worm are seen in stool or in the fur under the tails of dogs and cats. These segments contain the eggs of new worms.
Ear mites: Ear mites are transmitted through social interaction with other infected animals, which can include grooming, sleeping and playing together. They are common in cats, but dogs can get them as well. Inflammation around the ears and scratching of the ears or shaking of the head are symptoms of ear mites.
Only a veterinarian can accurately diagnose the various parasites that dogs or cats can contract. Vets also will be able to develop the proper course of treatment to kill the parasites and prevent reinfection.