Welcome back to Buckley Veterinary Hospital’s monthly pet care column. This month, we are highlighting the significance of protecting and screening your furry family member for internal parasites. We will be shedding some light on the importance of regular fecal screens and preventative parasite control for your pets. The information in this piece is provided to you in part by IDEXX Laboratories, one of the United States’ largest pet diagnostic companies.
Human intestinal parasites in the U.S. have been virtually eradicated by improvements in sewage management, availability of clean drinking water, control of zoonotic parasites in food animals and the routine anthelmintic treatment of the human population. Dogs and cats have not yet been so fortunate.
Dr. Byron L. Blagburn, of Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, has conducted surveys showing the level of infection among shelter dogs is similar to what it was 10 years ago, when the national average was more than 10 percent infected with hookworms, roundworms or whipworms. An ongoing national survey has also found more than 25 percent of cats have roundworms and more than 10 percent have hookworms. Even when pets are well taken care of and live in nice neighborhoods, there may be other animals (e.g., strays, foxes, coyotes) infected with parasites defecating in their yards and parks.
Normal behaviors like eating directly off the ground, drinking out of puddles, grooming, playing fetch and pouncing and biting items on the ground, predispose dogs and cats to parasitic infections all year long. Dogs and cats also acquire infections from infected prey (e.g., rabbits or mice) or fleas that serve as intermediate or paratenic hosts for different parasites.
Year-round internal parasite prevention products do not guarantee a pet will not have intestinal parasites. Recurring developmental stages of parasites, like hookworms, periodically repopulate the intestine, grow to adulthood and shed eggs in feces. Eggs and cysts produced by parasites may not be susceptible to prevention or treatment by the products being administered. Lastly, owner compliance in administering preventatives may be lacking.
In addition to having health implications for your furry family member, some of the parasite stages shed in dog and cat feces are zoonotic, so removing them to prevent environmental contamination, thereby protecting you and your family, is important.
Larva of hookworms cause nasty skin lesions. Larval stages of ascarids can migrate through the liver, lungs and eyes, causing organ damage and blindness, respectively. With an estimated 3 million to 6 million people infected each year, ascarid infection is one of the leading causes of unilateral blindness.
A pet’s history and lifestyle gives some indication as to whether they are more or less likely to have certain parasites. Important factors include age of pet, recent adoption from a shelter, frequenting of dog parks, administration of year-round preventives, hunting, presence of fleas, access to rodents or cockroaches and presence of other medical problems. Even predominantly indoor pets are likely to be exposed to parasites.
The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends appropriate fecal examinations be performed on puppies and kittens at least two to four times during the first year of life and once or twice per year in adults.
We can only hope that someday the task of fecal examination will become exceedingly boring because we are no longer finding anything. The goal is a negative sample so that, as occurs with people, tests will only be ordered when there is clinical suspicion of infection or a history supporting a need for a fecal examination. The true goal is prevention of illness, pain and suffering; to help you, as a pet owner, provide a longer, healthier and happier life for your best friend.
Thank you to our readers – we welcome you back next month. As always, send questions, comments, or suggestions for future columns to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.