So, it’s time for your pet’s yearly checkup. The veterinarian will be giving the yearly shots, performing an examination, and examining your pet’s stool? Why do we look at an animal’s feces? Our household pets have the ability to harbor worms and parasites in their stool, and we will discuss a few of them today.
Hookworms, Ancylostoma caninum, Ancylostoma tubaeform, and Ancylostoma braziliense can be found in all ages of cats and dogs, but are very common in puppies and kittens. These little worms have hook-like teeth that attach them to an animal’s intestinal wall. This allows them to survive and feed. The most common signs in our pets are weight loss and diarrhea that may be bloody.
Roundworms, Toxocara cati, Toxocara canis, and Toxascaris leonine are another group of worms that can be found in our pets, especially our young puppies and kittens. These are the typical “spaghetti” looking worms that can be seen in a puppy or kitten’s stool. Symptoms can be a distended abdomen (a puppy belly), diarrhea, and poor growth or weight loss.
Whipworms, Trichuris vulpis, is a worm that affects dogs. Cats have not shown the ability to carry this worm. The worm derives its common name from its appearance. The worm looks like a bull whip. This particular worm can cause substantial weight loss and diarrhea, with or without blood in the stool.
Tapeworms, Echinococcus granulosus, and Diplylidium caninum can infect both dogs and cats. These worms are generally transmitted by an animal eating a flea that is infected with the tapeworm larvae. An owner will describe white worms that are moving in the stool or dried rice looking material on the tail or anal region. They are noticing the egg packet from a much larger worm. The symptoms are generally mild but can cause constipation if the numbers are large enough.
All of these worms are easily treated and prevented. Your veterinarian will collect a stool sample, or if you are nice you will bring one to the appointment. Why should an owner go through this trouble? Shouldn’t I be able to see the worms in the stool? I look at them daily. We are actually looking for microscopic eggs after the stool has been prepared or treated with a solution. If you are seeing worms, other than tapeworms, the animal has a very bad infection. All veterinarians love to treat small infections, so we ask to look at your pet’s poop every year.
Now we know the most common worms and how to find them, but how does an animal become infected? Puppies and kittens can become infected through nursing. The worm larvae will pass through the milk and become ingested. Even the best cared for mother can harbor an infection, and they can then infect their young. Older animals will become infected when they do what animals do best, smelling and sniffing things. An infected animal will defecate in an area, and another animal will investigate that area. When they sniff the area, they will ingest the eggs that were passed from the infected animal. Your beloved pet is now infected with an intestinal parasite.
Of course, there are medicines to treat these parasites and even medicines to prevent infections. Prevention is always the better course of action. The easiest way to prevent infection from intestinal parasites is through the use of heartworm preventatives. Most of these have medicine in addition to the heartworm medicine to prevent infection from the most common intestinal worms. If your animal becomes infected, your veterinarian can prescribe the appropriate medicine and proper schedule for treatment. Believe it or not, the dewormers that you can buy at the local pet shop do not treat all worms equally. Talk to your veterinarian before you decide to give your pet any medicine.
Lastly, and probably most important, a couple of these worms are transmissible to humans. Hookworm larvae can cause an irritation on our feet. The larvae are picked up by walking barefoot in an infected area. Usually it is a very short lived problem.
The most serious infection can come from roundworms. When a person, especially our younger children, place dog toys or their fingers that are contaminated with stool in their mouth, they can become infected. This particular worm can cause blindness and liver issues. Regular cleaning of hands and toys and picking up the stool will lessen the risk. However, the best way to prevent this in humans is to prevent infection in our animals and treat our animals that are infected. If you want more information on this matter, talk to your veterinarian, and they can give you literature on this.
Next time your veterinarian talks to you about checking your pet’s stool, you will better understand the reasoning behind this weird request. Trust me, we do not do this because we enjoy poop. We do this to keep your pets healthy and to keep you healthy as well.