“That’s why it’s so important that people pick up after their pets,” says Dr. Kevin R. Kazacos, a professor at Purdue University veterinary school and one of the nation’s top experts on internal parasites. “The No. 1 thing that people can do to stop the spread of disease from their pets to their families is to regularly take the animal into a veterinarian. That’s the first line of defense. Secondly, people need to clean up their pet’s poop.”
Parasite control is one of the most common tasks that veterinarians must deal with during day-to-day practice. They have the expertise and many tools, including medications, to protect your pets and your families from parasites.
Irene McGuinness, a mother of three, says her son, Tommy, was the victim of a roundworm infection, which started at age 3. Unfortunately, Tommy died in 2004 at the age of 17 from the chronic disease, after more than a dozen years of severe illness. A roundworm infection can spread throughout the body of an infected child, and in Tommy’s case it spread to the lungs and brain.
It’s suspected Tommy caught the disease from raccoon droppings, perhaps in their backyard, but the type of roundworm that killed Tommy can be shed in dog feces as well.
“We think he picked up the parasite when he was 3, probably from putting a toy from the backyard into his mouth. You only need a small, small amount — about the size of the tip of a fingernail — to pick up an infection. Between the ages of 3 and 4 is when we started to notice that he was becoming sick and by the time he was 5 he was spending about one week a month in the intensive care unit at the hospital,” McGuinness says. “Our lives revolved around Tommy during the years he was infected, because it truly was life or death for him.”
To protect children from parasitic worms common to cats and dogs, don’t allow a child to play in areas that are soiled with pet or wild animal feces. Dr. Kazacos says that children can be infected with these parasites by eating dirt as well.
Dr. Kazacos says that it’s believed that roundworm infections are very much underdiagnosed. A recent study found that approximately 14 percent of Americans carry antibodies for dog and cat roundworms, meaning they’ve been exposed to the parasite. McGuinness agrees. Tommy’s primary doctors never suspected roundworms. Tommy was diagnosed during an eye exam, due to scarring inside the eyes from the infection. But not long after diagnosing Tommy, doctors who worked on his case diagnosed another child with the disease, McGuinness says.
“There are really a number of parasites that can affect your pets, including heartworm disease, roundworms and hookworms, and all of these can be, to varying degrees, very serious health problems. What’s worse, these can be zoonotic conditions which can spread to the rest of the family,” says Dr. James O. Cook, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). “If your pet shows any signs of infection, take them to your veterinarian as soon as possible. And when you obtain a new puppy or kitten, have your veterinarian treat them early in their life because they commonly have parasites without any symptoms.”
Common symptoms of infections by internal parasites in your cat or dog include a change in appetite or coat, diarrhea, coughing and also reduced activity, but many infected animals will not show any symptoms. Your veterinarian can detect a worm infection with a simple fecal test. If an infection is found, your veterinarian may recommend a de-worming program.
Kazacos also advises people to be careful about wildlife, particularly raccoons. Researchers like Kazacos have increasingly found that people, like Tommy McGuinness, are being infected by roundworm parasites common in raccoons.
“Roundworms in raccoons may not at first seem like a big health concern, but dogs can be carriers of these roundworms. We have seen many cases of dogs shedding these parasites and, also, many people are now keeping raccoons as pets, which increases the chances of exposure,” Kazacos says. “Raccoons have begun thriving in urban areas, and we’re becoming more exposed to these parasites as a result.”
For more information, or a helpful brochure on how to deal with common internal parasites, visit www.avma.org.
Courtesy of ARAcontent
Top 5 tips for parasite control:
*Take your pet to the veterinarian
*Pick up your pet’s poop
*Cover sandboxes to prevent wildlife and pets from visiting
*Do not leave food outdoors to attract wildlife
*Wash your hands and your children’s hands often