A Non-trivial Concern for Serious Pet-lovers

We take for granted that we ought to do fecal screenings for intestinal parasites in puppies and kittens – the presence of worms in the darling little boops is fairly ubiquitous, and we want our new friends to be healthy and happy. But how often do we consider the potential threat to our own health, when worms are on the loose?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, millions of Americans are affected by parasite infections every year; from the 300,000 people – many unknowingly – infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease, to the estimated 1.1 million new Trichomonas infections each year. Roundworms infecting humans can cause a nasty rash or even blindness, often in children. Toxoplasma gondii is present as a chronic infection in more than 60 million people. Hookworms can penetrate the skin and cause cutaneous larva migrans, although in rare instances visceral larva migrans can also occur, as well as skeletal muscle or intestinal involvement. The most common tapeworm found here is not zoonotic, but there is growing concern regarding Echinococcus multilocularis, whose range is spreading, and causes alveolar hydatid disease, which can be fatal.

Eek! And also Ew! (If you really want to gross yourself out, do an image search on cutaneous larva migrans, or ocular larva migrans. Only for the strong of stomach.)

Prevention, as usual, is much easier than the cure. Preventative deworming of puppies and kittens should be started early and repeated often – every two weeks per the CDC – until 8 to 10 weeks of age; ask your veterinarian what’s right for your pet. Dogs and cats who hunt should be routinely treated. Dogs on raw meat diets can harbor salmonella even if they are without symptoms, indeed according to the CDC such dogs should be considered carriers of zoonotic parasites unless proven otherwise. Pig’s ears, cow hooves and other similar chews can also be infected with salmonella.

Hand washing is key! This gets banged on about all the time, but it really is important, as most of the ickier bugs are transmitted via the fecal-oral route, and we’re talking about microscopic boogilies, so just because we can’t see anything doesn’t mean it isn’t there. (And little kids put everything in their mouths, right? Yep.) It’s a good idea to keep human food away from animal handling or bedding areas.

Pets with diarrhea should be isolated from other animals – testing and retesting pups and kittens with diarrhea is important since if the parasites are in the adult stage they may not be shedding eggs and things that can be found in fecal examinations.

What’s the best way to bring in the poo? Full HAZMAT suits not required, no matter what you smell. The fresher the better, same day at least, but if that’s not possible, be sure to double bag that package and keep it in the fridge – being careful to keep the outer container clean so as to not contaminate anything!


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