Dogs and cats can have many parasites, both internal and external. Internal parasites are those which live in the various organs inside the pet’s body. Intestinal parasites are internal parasites that live in the small or large intestine. External parasites, such as fleas, ticks and mites, live on the outside of the body.
There are several intestinal parasites that can infect dogs and cats. Most commonly we see roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms.
Roundworms are a common intestinal parasite. They live in the pet’s intestines, consuming partially digested food.
Puppies can acquire roundworm from the placenta before they are born.
Pets may also be infected by swallowing roundworm eggs that contain larvae. Larvae hatch in the pet’s stomach and small intestine and migrate through muscle, liver, and lungs.
Female roundworms can produce 200,000 eggs in just one day. These eggs are protected by a hard shell, which enables them to exist in soil for years!
Roundworm eggs passed in one animal’s stool can be infectious to other pets.
Roundworm pose a health risk for humans, as well. Children, in particular, are at risk for significant health problems, should they be infected.
Pets can be infected with hookworms in four ways: orally, through the skin, through the mother’s placenta, and through the mother’s milk.
Hookworms use their hook-like mouth parts to attach to the lining of the intestinal wall. A large number of hookworms can cause anemia.
Skin irritation and itching can be one of the common signs of a heavily infested environment. Larvae can burrow into the skin and cause the pet a great deal of discomfort.
Hookworms do not infect humans internally, however, the larvae can burrow into human skin.
More commonly seen in dogs than cats, whipworms live in the cecum, the top part of the dog’s large intestine. Whipworm can be difficult to diagnose, since they have a tendency to shed less eggs than other species of intestinal parasites.
Infestations can cause mucousy stool and weight loss in pets.
Tapeworms can be transmitted by ingesting fleas, or my hunting and eating rodents and other wildlife that may be infected.
Tapeworms can be 4-6 inches in length within the pets intestines. Tapeworms, however, are most commonly diagnosed by seeing segments of the tapeworm in the pets stool or stuck to the fur near and around the anus.
Most of the parasites that infect our pets can be diagnosed with a microscopic evaluation of your pet’s feces.