Dr. Andy’s Pearls of Wisdom on Parasites Part 2
Next to food, water, shelter and vaccines the next most important part of maintaining the health of your pet is parasite control. A parasite is an organism that lives on or in an organism of another species, known as the host, from the body of which it obtains nutriment. There are several types of parasites that prey upon our pets and sometimes even the pet owners. These organisms not only steal nutrients from our pets, but they also spread disease and other parasites. Some of these pesky critters cause allergic responses that make our pets itchy and miserable. Preventing an infestation of parasites saves money and makes your pets life much more comfortable. There are so many products available to fight these creatures that it can be confusing. The needs of the pet and the depth of the wallet are two of the factors that must be considered when choosing the best parasite control. In part 1, I wrote about deadly heartworms. In part 2, I will be explaining the six most common organisms classified as intestinal parasites.
Tapeworms are likely the most well-known intestinal parasite. When pet owner’s report seeing worms in a pet’s feces, they are usually tapeworm segments. Dogs and cats get tapeworms by ingesting fleas. Tapeworms steal nutrition from its host, but they do not do the damage to the intestines that other intestinal parasites can. The drugs used to treat tapeworm infestations are praziquantel and epsiprantel which are better known as Droncit and Cestex. These drugs works by damaging the protective shell on the tapeworm that protects it from the digestive acids and enzymes. While humans can be infested with tapeworms, the species that infects dogs and cats is different, so humans cannot get tapeworms from the family pet.
The next three parasites, hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms all feed in the intestines and cause major problems. Hookworms and whipworms can cause a bloody diarrhea that will lead to dehydration and anemia. Like tapeworms, roundworms steal food from their host, but hookworms and whipworms actually attach to the wall of the intestines and feed on the host’s blood. Puppies and kittens are particularly at risk from these parasites and heavy infections can threaten the life of any pet. Hookworm and whipworm infections in humans are rare. Roundworm infections are more common especially in children. The larva stage of the roundworm often migrates to the optic nerve of a human host and can cause blindness. It is very important to clean pet accidents up quickly and thoroughly. Never walk barefoot in an area that pets are allowed to eliminate and routinely wash your hands after interacting with your pet, especially before eating. Luckily, all three of these parasites are preventable and treatable. Most heartworm preventatives also prevent intestinal parasites. Interceptor/Sentinel, Advantage Multi and Trifexis all prevent hookworms, roundworms and whipworms. Heartgard is only effective against hookworms and roundworms. An infection of these parasites can be treated with one of three drugs, fenbendazole (Panacur), pyrantel pamoate (Nemex) or ivermectin. Puppies and kittens should start being dewormed with one of these drugs at three weeks of age, and be dosed once a week for three weeks, then once monthly thereafter.
The other intestinal parasites that cause diarrhea are coccidia and giardia. These parasites are small protozoa and they can multiply and debilitate a pet very quickly. Young puppies and kittens, as well as older pets, are most affected by these parasites, but even healthy pets can succumb to these tiny creatures. Dogs and cats sometimes carry coccidia, but don’t exhibit symptoms until stressed. Humans are not affected by coccidia as a general rule. Giardia is a very common parasite that is very difficult to find by standard diagnostic fecal examination. There are in house giardia tests that can be used to detect the organism. Giardia can be transmitted to humans so careful handling of infected feces is very important. There are treatments for both of the organisms that have been found to be very effective. The treatment for giardia is a course of the antibiotic metronidazole (Flagyl) or the de-wormer fenbendazole (Panacur). Coccidia are treated with a drug called ponazuril (Marquis). If the patient is debilitated supportive care may be necessary until the infection is clear.
As with heartworms, intestinal parasites should be prevented whenever possible. Even if some of these infections are not life threatening, they do adversely affect the quality of your pet’s life. Homes with children should be especially vigilant against these organisms due to their infectious abilities.
In the next part, I plan to discuss the last group of parasites, the ecto-parasites that live on the surface of our pet’s skin. If you have any questions feel free to call me at Hillman Veterinary Clinic. Our phone number is 850-433-2812.