Happy Month of March!

Hello hello!! March is starting and many of us are loving this weather! With better weather, we are seeing more and more people taking their pups outside, which is excellent, but it also means we are going to see a higher exposure to parasites in the environment. I will be focusing this blog on intestinal parasites, but please be aware that there are more than just intestinal parasites out there that could affect our cats and dogs.

I want to start by addressing some myths about intestinal parasites. First of all, not all of them look like spaghetti! In fact, there are different types of intestinal parasites that are microscopic, meaning you would never see them in your pet’s poop, and they are fairly commonly seen in the DFW metroplex. In addition, these spaghetti looking intestinal parasites are microscopic when they are babies and you may never catch them with your naked eye.

Another common myth is that if a pet is strictly indoors, they will not be exposed to intestinal parasites and families do not need to worry about these critters. In the years I have been practicing as a doctor, I have seen plenty of strictly indoors pups and kitties that have acquired intestinal parasites and this exposure can be in different ways, including us human family members bringing home microscopic eggs with our shoes and their routine daily walks (even if the walking areas seem clean and/or are not exposed to other dogs). 

Both dogs and cats can be affected by the most common intestinal parasites. The spaghetti looking worms that we typically think of are usually roundworms or hookworms. These are transmitted through the ingestion of microscopic eggs found within stools or in contaminated areas, when our babies step on stool traces that may have the eggs and then lick their paws. Many of these microscopic eggs can live in the environment for weeks or even months! 

Another common intestinal parasite that we see in Texas is the tapeworm, which is transmitted through the ingestion of a flea infected with a microscopic stage of the tapeworm parasite. We usually see segments (proglottids) of the adult worms in the stools or around our pet’s anuses and they look like grains of rice. Sometimes you may also catch your pet (especially dogs) scooting (dragging their behind), but this can also be related to a different condition, like anal sac (gland) issues or allergies, among others. 

Some intestinal parasites that can only be found as microscopic parasites and not actual worms are giardia and coccidia. These parasites, which are common in DFW, are also usually transmitted through exposure to contaminated stools or areas where stools are present, including water sources contaminated with giardia. These parasites can be very difficult to get rid of and they can linger around in the environment for quite some time, so prevention and routine testing are very important.

Intestinal parasites can cause diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, anemia, and can even lead to life threatening scenarios! It is important to note that pets with completely normal stools can still have intestinal parasites and also that soft stools or diarrhea are seen with many other diseases or conditions that are unrelated to intestinal parasites. 

In order to test for most intestinal parasites, a basic fecal analysis performed through our lab will typically show if intestinal parasites are present or not. Sometimes a more advanced fecal test may be recommended, based on the situation. I recommend performing at least one annual fecal exam if exposure to the environment is minimal or to test at least every 6 months if there is higher exposure to the environment or potential sources of intestinal parasites. If you see any worms on your pet’s stools, please take a picture of the worm and share it with us or even bring the worm itself to our hospital so that you can show it to our veterinary healthcare team. I always recommend every parent to always bring a fresh stool sample to every appointment, in case one may be needed. You may also be recommended to have blood work performed if there is suspicion of significant intestinal parasite damage and you may also be recommended other tests to further assess your kiddo’s health, but these would be discussed with during your appointment, if needed.

Most common intestinal parasites can be addressed with specific dewormers and strict environmental control/hygiene, but sometimes some pets may need more advanced treatments, based on their overall health needs. Also, if you suspect or know that your baby has intestinal parasites, avoid going to common areas where other animals go to, as they will be exposed to these parasites. 

However, more important than treating parasites is prevention and in order to minimize exposure and transmission of these common intestinal parasites, environmental control is vital. I recommend to always pick up your baby’s stools right after going to the bathroom to potentially avoid leaving these critters in the environment. Basic hygiene at home will be important and  also consider wiping your pup’s paws after a walk, as this may help removing stool traces from their paws. Another important fact is that many of these parasites can be transmitted to humans, so please consult with your vet to see what precautions may be needed with certain parasites or consult with your physician if you believe you may have been exposed.

Thank you and I hope this information may be useful for all the pet parents out there! Happy month of March and abrazos!!