At one point or another, most pet parents will encounter worms in their furbaby’s feces or vomit. Though it’s certainly alarming, recognizing the presence of worms is an important first step to getting your dog or cat the treatment they need to be parasite-free.
You may be aware of the risks of heartworms, but what about the parasites that live and multiply in the digestive tract? Get familiar with some of the most common varieties of gastrointestinal worms, and learn how to eliminate them and prevent future infections.
In order to choose the right dewormer to treat your pet, your vet will need to determine which variety of parasite is causing the problem.
Small puppies and kittens are particularly susceptible to worms, and many pet parents unknowingly introduce parasites into their homes when they add a new pet to the family. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to keep growing cats and dogs healthy and prevent the spread of worms to other members of your household.
Keep an eye out for signs of these likely suspects:
Spaghetti-like and several inches long, roundworms are the most common parasite found in puppies and kittens.
Because there are so many ways pets can acquire roundworms, including contaminated soil, mother’s milk, or even during gestation, it’s unsurprising that around 30% of puppies and up to 75% of kittens will harbor this parasite at some point.
Roundworms usually appear in pets’ stool, though dogs may sometimes cough or vomit them up. Many pets show no other signs of infection, but vulnerable kittens or puppies may weaken and develop a pot-bellied appearance.
It’s a good idea to periodically inspect your pets’ waste for evidence of roundworms, especially when you’ve just added a new family member.
Like roundworms, hookworms enter the body through ingestion and multiply in pets’ intestinal tracts. These parasites use their teeth to attach themselves to the host’s intestinal mucosa and feed on blood.
Over time, a hookworm infestation can cause anemia, weakness, and persistent diarrhea that is life-threatening to small puppies and kittens.
Unfortunately, hookworms are usually too small to be noticed in vomit or stool. The most common outward signs are lethargy and pale gums, but your vet can diagnose hookworms through a fecal flotation test.
Cats and dogs become infested with tapeworms when they ingest adult fleas that have eaten tapeworm eggs. When the eggs hatch, the worms attach to pets’ small intestines.
Growing tapeworms form individual body segments, each with its own reproductive system. The segments, which are about the size of a grain of rice or smaller, break off and appear in pets’ feces, where they hope to infest a new host.
Tapeworms are not as noticeable as roundworms, and many pet parents become aware that their cat or dog is infected only after they lose significant weight or develop irritation around their anus.
Repeated doses of dewormer can kill tapeworms, but one of the best ways to ward off infection is to talk to your veterinarian about a flea preventative.
Whipworms get their name from their tapered, whip-like body shape. They typically enter pets’ bodies when they groom themselves after coming into contact with soil that is infested with eggs.
Like hookworms, whipworms attach to the intestinal walls and feed on blood. Because of their small size, they aren’t typically visible to the naked eye. The hallmark of a whipworm infestation is persistent bloody diarrhea.
These worms have an exceptionally long life cycle, so an extended treatment regimen is needed to completely eradicate them.
The best way to keep intestinal parasites at bay is to adhere to your vet’s recommendations for preventative deworming when your puppy or kitten is small. Fortunately, heartworm preventatives also offer protection against some other worm varieties as pets mature.
Schedule regular wellness visits, keep your pets’ living environment clean and sanitary, and test newly adopted animals for worms before giving them free run of your home.
While confirmed cases are rare, it is possible for cats and dogs to transfer parasites to humans. Small children are most vulnerable because of their developing immune systems.
Minimize the risks by practicing good hygiene and promptly disinfecting any surfaces that have been contaminated with vomit or feces.
Many cases of worms are discovered when pet parents notice them in their pet’s waste, but it’s important to remember that not all varieties are visible to the naked eye.
Other possible symptoms may include:
If you are concerned about a possible infestation, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian. Only an exam can definitively diagnose a parasitic infection and help your vet choose the right dewormer for your furbaby.