Intestinal Parasites in Pets
Intestinal parasites are commonly passed on to puppies and kittens whose mothers are infected during gestation and birth. However, mature cats and dogs may also possess intestinal parasites, even though they may appear to be healthy and not display any symptoms. While most intestinal parasites are not especially dangerous, they can cause discomfort and sabotage nutrient absorption if the animal remains untreated over a prolonged period of time.
Intestinal parasites that commonly affect pets include:
- Coccidia (not a worm, but a protozoan, or single-celled organism)
What Are the Symptoms of Intestinal Parasites?
For many pet owners, the first telltale sign of the presence of intestinal parasites is the discovery of small white thread-like objects in the stool of the pet. Roundworms can give a pet the appearance of having a potbelly. In the case of tapeworm, segments that look like beads or grains of rice may be visible in the fur around the pet’s rectum or tail. Whipworms, on the other hand, are virtually undetectable without the aid of a microscope.
Some pets may demonstrate clinical signs of intestinal parasite infestation, such as:
- Weight loss
- Lack of energy
How Do Pets Get Intestinal Parasites?
When a cat or dog becomes host to intestinal parasites, it’s not an indication that the animal is unhealthy or that there is a lack of adequate care of the animal on your part. It simply means that your pet has come in contact with either a biological or mechanical ‘vector,’ the technical term for the mode of transmission. For many pets, the vector is the common flea, which finds the eggs of many intestinal parasites to be appealing appetizers. Your pet becomes infected when it ingests the fleas while grooming itself. Therefore, aggressive flea prevention is one of the most important things you can do to help prevent your pet from picking up intestinal parasites.
Other ways that pets can contract intestinal parasites include:
- Sharing the same food or water dishes with other infected pets.
- Multiple cats using the same litter box.
- Cats that go outdoors and hunt may pick up parasites from their prey.
- Consuming raw foods that are infected with parasites or their eggs.
How Often Should My Pet Be Checked for Intestinal Parasites?
Since some intestinal parasites can be spread to other pets (and sometimes people), it’s important to have your veterinarian examine fecal specimens from your pet regularly. The US Center for Disease Control, as well as many veterinarians, recommend these examinations be conducted at least twice a year for adult cats and dogs.
Puppies and kittens are another matter. Prenatal infestation of intestinal parasites is very common in newborn puppies and it is recommended that they be treated with a vermifuge at 2, 4, 6 and 8 weeks of age and a monthly treatment thereafter. Kittens, which do not contract intestinal parasites during gestation, can be treated biweekly starting at 3 weeks of age with a monthly preventative after 9 weeks.
Treatment of Intestinal Parasites in Pets
There are several treatment options available to quickly and safely rid your pet of intestinal parasites. However, it’s important to recognize that a one-time treatment doesn’t last for the life of your pet. In fact, many animals become reinfected when parasitic eggs mature, or if the appropriate vector is repeatedly encountered, such as fleas. Therefore, most veterinarians recommend a monthly preventative treatment, especially if there are risk factors for the animal (i.e., cats that consume mice, etc.).
Conventional treatments include several medications, some of which are available over-the-counter and others by prescription from your veterinarian.
The most commonly used are:
- Pyrantel pamoate
There are also numerous botanical, nutritional and homeopathic therapies useful in treating intestinal parasites in pets, including:
- Black walnut
- Oregon grape
- Digestive enzymes
- Reishi mushrooms
- Homeopathic formulas: filax mas, nat phos and chenopodium
It should be noted that some of these herbs, namely wormwood, black walnut and garlic, are associated with potential toxicity and other side effects, such as gastrointestinal irritation. Therefore, an experienced holistic veterinarian should supervise the administration of these botanicals.