All Creatures Veterinary Hospital

All Creatures Veterinary Hospital
4549 HW 62 West
Mountain Home, AR 72653
(870) 425-5175


Intestinal Parasites in Dogs and Cats

Intestinal parasites are a very common problem in dogs and cats. Puppies and kittens are usually born with them or acquire them from their mother's milk, but many adult dogs and cats are affected as well. Parasites can cause mild to severe disease such as diarrhea, gas, vomiting, anemia, dehydration, and even death if left untreated. Other more nonspecific signs include dull hair color, coughing, loss of appetite, pale gums, and pot-bellied appearance. Parasites rob an animal of nutrients and good health and also have the potential to infect humans. Diagnosis is usually made by seeing worms in the stool or by microscopic exam of the feces.

Intestinal parasites can be roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, whipworms, or protozoans (one-celled organisms). Roundworms are one of the most common intestinal parasites. They are 3-5 inches long and live in the animal's small intestine. Roundworms can become life-threatening if the numbers are so great that intestinal blockage occurs. Migration of the larvae through tissues of people can occur and cause serious disease. This is not common and can be avoided by washing hands thoroughly after handling pets, pet feces, or soil potentially contaminated by pet feces.

Hookworms are very small and are usually not visible in the feces. Puppies are often born with them. Adult animals can also become infected when the larvae from an infected animal's feces penetrate the skin or are ingested. The larvae then migrate to the lungs and are coughed up and swallowed to become adult hookworms in the intestines. Hookworms can cause severe anemia due to blood loss from the worms sucking blood from the host. The feces may appear black and tarry if blood loss is severe. Hookworm larvae can penetrate human skin and migrate under the skin using dermatitis.

Tapeworms have long, flattened bodies made up of many small segments. As the segments mature, they break off and are passed in the feces. These segments can often be seen near the rectum or in the feces and resemble grains of rice when dry. Animals become infected by swallowing infected fleas or by eating infected rodents. They rarely cause significant disease in animals. Tapeworm eggs are rarely seen on microscopic exam of feces and diagnosis is usually made by seeing the worm segments on the animal or in the feces. As well as treating the worm infection, the animal and environment should be treated for fleas.

Whipworms are more common in dogs than cats and can cause vomiting, poor hair coat, and foul smelling gas and diarrhea.

Coccidia and Giardia are protozoan (one-celled) organisms that infect the intestines of dogs and cats. They can infect young animals as well as adults, but cause the most severe disease in puppies and kittens. Often, these organisms are not visible on microscopic exam of the stool and treatment may be initiated without a definitive diagnosis. Infections with these parasites often recur and can be a persistent problem in large groups of animals, (kennels, breeding facilities,) where carrier animals may exist.

Once diagnosed, most intestinal parasites are easily treated with a wormer prescribed by the veterinarian. Animals can become reinfected and should be checked for parasites on a routine basis. Parasite control begins with good sanitation procedures including daily removal of feces, cleaning litter boxes daily, avoiding overcrowding of animals, and controlling fleas. Monthly heartworm preventatives such as Sentinel, Heartgard, and Revolution also help control intestinal parasites.

If you have any questions about intestinal parasites in your pet, or want to schedule a time to have your pet's stool checked for parasites, call our office at (870) 425-5175.