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Pets, Parasites, & People: What Do You Need to Know?

Did you know that some parasites can be transferred from pets to people? Parasites are organisms that live in or on pets and include external parasites like fleas and ticks and internal parasites like worms and protozoa.  Roundworms and hookworms, two of the more common parasites in pets, can also infect people.

Roundworms in Pets

Roundworms are a common parasite found in the intestines of pets. According to the CDC, 30% of dogs in the U.S. under 6 months  and 25% of all cats have roundworms.  Pets come in contact with roundworms either from an infected mother through nursing or through exposure to roundworm eggs found in the soil. If your pet gets roundworm eggs on his feet or fur, he’ll often ingest them when he grooms himself.

In pets, roundworms can cause a variety of symptoms, with many pets showing no symptoms at all.  Poor hair coat, pot-bellied appearance, failure to grow or thrive, weight loss, and vomiting are all vague symptoms that can be associated with roundworm infection. On occasion, pets may pass adult roundworms in the stool or vomit. However, if you don’t see worms in your pets stool, this doesn’t mean that your pet is free of parasites.

Can People Become Infected with Roundworms?

Roundworms can be transmitted from pets to people by ingesting dirt contaminated with round worm eggs. This is seen most commonly in children, but also adults who are exposed to soil through work, gardening, or other means. The CDC reports that 14% of the U.S. population has been infected with roundworms at one time or another. 

Most people infected with roundworms have no symptoms, but this parasite can cause serious illness. Once roundworm eggs are consumed, this parasite can travel throughout the body, causing fever, cough, pneumonia, liver disease, and even permanent blindness if it travels to the eye.
  
Hookworms in Pets

Hookworms are another parasite found in pets, more commonly found in warmer climates and on the East Coast.  Pets are exposed to hookworms from an infected mother through nursing, from ingesting hookworm eggs, or from penetration of hookworms through the skin.

Pets with hookworm infections can have a poor appetite, cough, diarrhea, constipation, and pale gums, lips, and ears. This parasite can cause death in infected dogs and cats if left untreated. As with roundworms, not seeing worms in your pets stool doesn’t mean your pet is free of this parasite.

What about Hookworms and People?

People can develop hookworm infections through exposure to the feces of infected pets.   Hookworm larvae can penetrate through the skin of people, and the most common route of exposure is through skin contact of contaminated soil or sand such as by walking barefoot or sitting on the ground.

Hookworm infection in people can cause a very itchy, raised red rash. Rarely, hookworms can infect human intestines, causing abdominal pain and diarrhea. 

How Can Roundworms and Hookworms Be Diagnosed and Treated?

Parasites can be diagnosed by your veterinarian by examining a fresh stool sample under a microscope. If your pet is diagnosed with roundworms or hookworms, medications can effectively treat these parasites. Most veterinarians will recommend follow up stool testing to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment. 

How Can I Keep My Pet and Myself From Becoming Infected?

Here are some simple steps you can take to help prevent infection in dogs and cats and reduce the chance of exposure to yourself and others:

  •     Always pick up and dispose of animal feces immediately.
  •     Wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning up after your pet.
  •     Wash your hands before preparing food, and wash all produce before eating or preparing it.
  •     Wear shoes when outdoors.
  •     Keep sand boxes covered when not in use.
  •     Make sure your pet receives regular veterinary care, including parasite testing.
  •     Discuss an effective parasite prevention program with your veterinarian.

Your veterinarian is the best source of information for developing an effective parasite prevention program based on your pet's life style. Visit your veterinarian today!

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