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Pets, Parasites, and Protecting the Family

Reviewed by Dr. Sarah Tasse, DVM on Friday, September 11, 2015
Posted September 08, 2013 in Dog Checkups & Preventive Care

Family and Dog

Just the thought of parasites makes most people cringe. Yet, according to KSU's Veterinary Health Center, it is estimated that 34% of all dogs in the United States have some type of intestinal parasite. Worse yet, the CDC reported that 14% of Americans showed evidence of having been infected with the roundworm Toxocara. That's right: people can get roundworms, and other parasites, from their pets or from the same sources our pets get them. Besides being creepy, parasites pose a real health problem to people and pets. 

What pets are at risk?

All dogs and cats are at risk for parasites. External parasites like fleas and ticks are usually easy to spot if you know what to look for. You can also tell often that your pet has fleas because fleas frequently cause scratching, chewing and hair loss. (Watch this video for more on protecting youd dog from fleas and ticks.) It is harder to know if your pet has internal parasites, like tapewormsroundworms, hookworms and whipworms. Sometimes, pets with internal parasites will scoot on their rear end, vomit, have diarrhea, or lose weight unexpectedly, but often their symptoms are nonspecific and overlooked. 

The best way to find out if your pet has internal parasites is to take them to their veterinarian at least yearly. At your veterinary clinic they will examine a stool sample under the microscope to look for evidence of intestinal parasites through identification of microscopic eggs, larvae, and parasites. They will also test your dog’s blood for heartworm disease and other vector-borne parasites. It's important that anytime you bring a puppy, kitten or new pet home, you have them checked by your veterinarian right away to be sure that they won’t be exposing your other pets or family to parasites.

Why should you care?

Since parasites often go undetected, you may wonder why you should care about them? Although pets infected with parasites can sometimes be asymptomatic, they remain a common and important cause of disease in pets. Fleas can cause skin irritation, skin infections, and even anemia in young animals. Ticks are an important disease vector for people and pets, and can spread Lyme diseaseRocky Mountain spotted fever, and ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Intestinal parasites (worms) can cause vomiting, diarrhea, malnutrition, weight loss, and anemia. Heartworm disease can be very debilitating, and if left

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Ruth has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry as a companion animal veterinarian in private practice. Along with being a writer and media personality, she is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.