People, Pets and Parasites

By April 9, 2013 All Posts

An article by Dr. Hirzer

We share many things with our pets from our yards, homes, beds and sometimes even snacks. I have seen my friend share an ice cream cone with his beloved Golden Retriever. The dog didn’t finish the cone, they took turns licking! Even as a long time animal lover I was somewhat appalled and have since learned that this is a more common practice than I care to think it is.

Sharing our lives with animals may mean sharing parasites, too. Our pets expose themselves to parasites in their everyday lives. Most puppies are infested with round worms from their mothers. Animals can be infected from the things they are fed or choose to eat, like raw food diets, other animals, manure or feces. Parasites can also be ingested when pets groom by licking themselves. Some worms even have the ability to penetrate skin in order to enter an animal’s body.

Pet parasites, specifically intestinal worms can also infest us. People at greatest risk of acquiring pet related parasitic infestations are those who are most exposed to pets and their feces. This category certainly includes pet owners. Children are at particularly high risk of exposure due to their habit of putting things in their mouths. They aren’t necessarily eating pet poop, but may be getting sand, dirt or toys that have contacted the feces in their mouths. The danger in sharing a snack with your pet depends on what they had in their mouths before licking the ice cream cone. Parasites can also infect us by penetrating our skin. Our pets’ intestinal worms don’t necessarily become intestinal worms in us. Larval migrans is a term that describes a condition in which parasitic worms enter and migrate throughout our bodies. Migration can occur in the skin or any other tissues and organs. There are documented cases of these worm migrations occurring in the eye and causing blindness or in the brain causing neurological problems.

The risk of these types of infections in people can be reduced in a number of ways. We can reduce our exposure to animal feces by daily disposal of pet droppings, covering children’s sandboxes and hand washing after touching anything potentially contaminated with animal feces. We can also try to keep our pets parasite free by preventing them from hunting, feeding them cooked diets, having regular pet fecal examinations, and instituting a regular deworming program.

Your veterinarian can help you diagnose and treat parasite infections in your pet(s). Laboratory fecal examinations can be done to diagnose and identify intestinal parasites. There are a number of techniques available and they vary widely in their accuracy and none is 100% accurate. It is therefore important to also consider the lifestyle of your pet when deciding about a deworming program. The Tea Cup Poodle that lives in a high rise condo, is paper trained and only goes out in a fashionable pet tote bag has a low risk for parasitism. The farm dog that lives outdoors and supplements its diet with groundhogs, rabbits and manure has an extremely high risk of parasitism. The average pet, the cat that occasionally indulges in hunting or dog that goes for walks and sneaks a lick of enticing smelling stuff on the ground, are at a moderate risk of parasitism but these are the pets that give us kisses. Consulting with your veterinarian can help you determine the right deworming program for your pet.

With the readily available veterinary diagnostics and treatments and some common sense cleanliness we can feel safe to continue sharing our yards, homes, beds and ice cream cones with our pets.

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