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Frequently Asked Questions -

Parasites

 

What are roundworms and how are they treated?
Are roundworms threatening to people? What is the most effective way to control infection?
What are hookworms and how are they treated?
Are canine hookworms infectious to people? What can be done to control hookworm infection in dogs and to prevent human infection?
What is coccidiosis?
How is coccidiosis diagnosed and treated?
What is giardia? Is it threatening to people?
How can giardiasis be diagnosed and treated?

What are tapeworms?
What can tapeworms be treated and prevented? Are they threatening to people?
What is ringworm?
How is ringworm transmitted and treated? What is the risk to humans?

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What are roundworms and how are they treated?
Roundworms are intestinal parasites that live freely in the intestine, feeding off of partially digested intestinal contents. Roundworms are one of the most common intestinal parasites of the cat but are found in dogs as well. There are two important species of roundworms in dogs, and one in cats.

Roundworms are contracted by sniffing or licking feces infected with eggs. They are also spread by other animals such as rodents, birds, earthworms and cockroaches. In these animals, the roundworms are merely transported, but if the animal is eaten by a dog or cat, the dog or cat can become infected. Roundworms can also pass to kittens through a mother’s milk.

Roundworms are most threatening to puppies and kittens. The most common consequence of roundworms in young animals is growth reduction. Since roundworms feed off of partially digested food, they rob the growing puppy or kitten of vital nutrients. These animals often have a characteristic “pot-belly” that is due to the growing roundworms inside the abdomen, as well as abdominal discomfort, depressed appetite, or vomiting and diarrhea.

Treatment is safe, simple and effective. There are many safe and effective preparations available to kill roundworms in the intestine. In addition, many heartworm preventives are also effective against intestinal roundworms and help prevent future infections. However, the majority of preparations available today kills only the adult worms and do not affect larvae, so repeated treatments are necessary.

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Are roundworms threatening to people? What is the most effective way to control infection?
If the infected eggs of one type of roundworm are swallowed by people, the larvae can invade the tissues and become enclosed within a cyst in various organs. If a large number of infected eggs are ingested, clinical disease may become apparent. In rare cases permanent blindness or brain damage can occur. This is particularly true of a specied of roundworm carried by raccoons and occasionally by dogs.

Prevention includes different aspects: deworming pregnant animals, regularly deworming puppies, administering monthly heartworm and flea preventive products that are effective against roundworms, and control of rodents and insects that can serve as a source of infection. Also, adult animals at risk should be dewormed regularly. An animal is a risk if he has a pre-existing infection, lives in environments that are heavily contaminated or lives in the presence of intermediate hosts such as roaches, earthworms and birds.

To prevent infection of the environment, dogs and cats should be restrained from defecating in children’s play areas and there should be prompt disposal of all feces, especially in gardens, playgrounds and public parks. Practice strict hygiene particularly with children. Do not allow them to play in potentially contaminated environments.

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What are hookworms and how are they treated?
Hookworms are small parasites that get their name from the hook-like mouthparts they use to attach to the intestinal wall. They ingest large amounts of blood from the tiny vessels in the intestinal wall. A large number of hookworms can cause anemia. In general, dogs tend to harbor large numbers of hookworms and cats, relatively few. Also, the feline hookworms tend to be less aggressive bloodsuckers than the canine species. The problem of hookworms is most common in puppies.

Hookworms are more common in warm, moist environments but can exist in large numbers in our dry desert environment as well. Conditions of overcrowding and poor sanitation contribute to infection when animals swallow larvae or when larvae penetrate the skin. Puppies but not kittens can also be infected when larvae pass from a mother to puppies in the womb via the blood stream or when larvae pass from a mother via the mother’s milk.

The most significant problems caused by hookworms appear to be intestinal distress and anemia. Blood loss results from the parasites ingesting blood from intestinal capillaries. Pale gums, diarrhea, or weakness are common signs of anemia. Some animals experience significant weight loss, bloody diarrhea, poor coat of hair, presence of digested blood in the stool or failure to grow properly. Skin irritation and itching, especially of the paws, can be signs of a heavily infested environment.

Hookworms are diagnosed with a microscopic examination of a stool sample. After diagnosis, there are several effective drugs that can be used to eliminate hookworms. However, these drugs only kill the adult hookworms, so repeated treatment is necessary to kill larvae. Also, since the environment can be infested with hookworm eggs and larvae, it wil be necessary to cover or remove infested soil and perform daily clean up to remove them from your yard. Chemical disinfection in generally NOT successful in removnig hookworm eggs fromt he soil,but it takes about 24 hours for them to become infectious, so faithful daily clean up will be very helpful.

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Are canine hookworms infectious to people? What can be done to control hookworm infection in dogs and to prevent human infection?
Hookworm infection in humans is limited to the larvae can burrow into human skin. This occurs mostly in children and causes itching, commonly called “ground itch”, but the worms do not mature into adults. This only results from direct contact of human skin to moist, hookworm infested and rarely occurs if normal hygiene practices are observed.

Prevention includes different aspects: deworming pregnant animals, regularly deworming puppies, and administering monthly heartworm and flea preventive products that are effective against hookworms.

To prevent infection of the environment, dogs and cats should be restrained from defecating in children’s play areas and there should be prompt disposal of all feces, especially in gardens, playgrounds and public parks. For cats, stool should be removed from litter boxes daily, if possible. Always wash hands after handling litter box material. Practice strict hygiene particularly with children. Do not allow them to play in potentially contaminated environments.

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What is coccidiosis?
Coccidiosis is an intestinal tract infection caused by one-celled organisms called coccidia which live in the lining cells of the intestine. Immature coccidia are passed in the feces of an infected animal. They are very resistant and can survive for some time on the ground until a dog or cat may ingests them, and they invade and infect the intestinal lining cells. Animals may also be indirectly infected by eating a rodent infected with coccidia.

Most dogs and cats that are infected with coccidia do not have diarrhea or other signs. When the immature coccidia are found in the stool of an animal without diarrhea, they are generally considered insignificant. However, in puppies and kittens, and debilitated adult dogs and cats, coccidiosis may cause severe, watery diarrhea, dehydration, abdominal distress, and vomiting. In severe cases, death may occur.

The most common coccidia found in dogs and cats do not have any effect on humans. However, less common types of coccidia are potentially infectious to humans. Good hygiene and proper disposal of feces are important in minimizing risk of transmission of all parasites to humans, or to other animals.

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How is coccidiosis diagnosed and treated?
Coccidiosis is diagnosed by performing a microscopic exam of a stool sample or in rarer cases, by performing a blood test.

The most common drug used to eliminate coccidia is an antibiotic given for ten to fourteen days. In severe infections, it may be necessary to repeat the treatment. Re-infection of animals is common so environmental disinfection is important. Proper disposal of feces is key to minimizing risk of re-infection.

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What is giardia? Is it threatening to people?
Giardia is a one-celled parasitic organism that causes giardiasis, an intestinal infection of both man and animals. A pet becomes infected with giardia when it swallows the hardier form of giardia that is shed in feces and can survive several months in the environment, particularly in water and damp environments. However, disease is relatively rare in healthy animals. It is more common in densely-populated groups of animals.

An animal with giardia will have foul-smelling diarrhea and occasionally vomiting as well. The signs may persist for several weeks and gradual weight loss may become apparent. The diarrhea may be intermittent. Most cats do not have a fever but may be quite lethargic. However, many animals are infected without clinical signs, or the diarrhea is treated as ‘non-specific’.

Giardia can cause diarrhea in humans. Caution is advised when a pet has been diagnosed with giardiasis, especially for people with immunodeficiency. If your pet is diagnosed with giardiasis, environmental disinfection is important: a cup of chlorine bleach in a gallon of water is effective. Also, because giardia cysts are susceptible to drying, we recommend thoroughly cleaning the pet’s living and sleeping areas and then allowing the areas to dry out for several days before reintroducing pets.

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How can giardiasis be diagnosed and treated?
Infection with giardia is diagnosed by performing a microscopic examination of a stool sample. The cysts are quite small and are not shed with every stool so they can be very difficult to find on routine fecal examinations. Blood and fecal tests are also available and are generally more accurate than the stool exam.

Different drugs can be used to kill giardia, but resistance can be a problem, and no drug is always effective. The medication is normally given for seven to ten days to treat giardiasis. Other drugs are also used if diarrhea and dehydration occur. No proven effective preventative vaccine is yet available.

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What are tapeworms?
Tapeworms are flattened intestinal worms that are made up of many small segments. Tapeworms attach to the wall of the small intestine by hook-like mouthparts. The adult worms may reach up to 8 inches in length, but most commonly individual segments are seen in the feces. They are about 3/8” long and look like grains of rice or cucumber seeds. Occasionally they can be seen moving on the hairs around the anus. As the tapeworm segment dries, it becomes a golden color and the fertilized eggs are released into the environment.

Animals cannot be infected by eating fertilized tapeworm eggs. Tapeworms must first pass through an intermediate host like a flea, a mouse, a rabbit or, more rarely, lice. The animal then ingests the host carrying the infective tapeworm by capturing a rat, mouse or rabbit or by swallowing a flea during grooming.

Tapeworms do not normally cause serious health problems in dogs and few clinical signs are attributed to their presence. In puppies, large numbers of tapeworms can be more serious. Lack of growth, anemia and intestinal blockage can occur.

Diagnosis is usually made by observing the white tapeworm segments in the feces, but because they are only passed intermittently, they are often not diagnosed on routine fecal examination. If you find any segments, white or golden color, bring them in for a definitive diagnosis.

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What can tapeworms be treated and prevented? Are they threatening to people?

With today’s drugs, treatment of tapeworms is safe, simple and effective. Specific tablets or injections cause the parasite to dissolve in the intestine.

Flea control is critical in the management and prevention of tapeworm infection. Flea control involves treatment of your dog and the environment Prevention is a successfully accomplished by using a monthly flea preventive. If the environment is already infested with fleas, it should be treated. Without treatment re-infection may occur in as little as two weeks.

It is very rare that people contract tapeworms from their dog. A person must swallow an infected flea or other host to become infected. Vigorous flea control will eliminate any risk. Human tapeworms, seen more commonly in third-world countries, are usually acquired from eating undercooked beef or pork (the intermediate host of the human tapeworm).

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What is ringworm?
Ringworm or dermatophytosis is a fungal infection of the skin, hairs and nails. The fungi can cause disease in both man and animals.

In dogs, the fungi live in hair follicles and cause the hair shafts to break off at the skin line. This usually results roughly circular areas with hair loss and often occur on several sites throughout the body. These lesions are not usually itchy, but sometimes they are inflamed and scab-covered. As the fungus multiplies, the lesions may become irregularly shaped and spread over the dog's body. The lesions of ringworm in cats may be very mild or even undetectable. A “cigarette ash” scaling in the depths of the coat may be the only sign. In other cases there are discrete, circular, thickened plaques with hair loss, usually on the head, chest, forelegs and along the ridge of the back to the base of the tail. These lesions are not usually itchy. Occasionally, in both dogs and cats, infection of the claws may occur. The claws become rough, broken and pitted with a scaly base. The claw may ultimately become deformed.

Diagnosis is made through identification of the typical "ringworm" lesions on the skin, fluorescence of infected hairs under a ultraviolet light, or a culture of the hair to find the fungus.

Infected pets remain contagious for about three weeks if aggressive treatment is used, and minimizing exposure to other dogs or cats and to your family members is recommended during this period.

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How is ringworm transmitted and treated? What is the risk to humans?
Transmission occurs by direct contact. Ringworm may be passed from dogs to cats and back, from animals to humans and back, and from humans to humans. Transmission may also occur from an infected environment, including infected collars, leashes or bedding. The fungal spores may live in bedding or carpet for several months. They may be killed with a dilution of chlorine bleach and water.

Adult humans usually are resistant to infection unless there is a break in the skin, but children are especially susceptible. If any humans in the house develop skin lesions such as small patches of skin thickening and reddening with raised scaly edges, early medical attention should be sought. Ringworm in humans generally responds very well to treatment.

Two main forms of treatment can be used for animals with ringworm: topical therapy (application of creams, ointments or shampoos) and systemic therapy (administration of anti-fungal drugs by mouth). In addition, attention must also be given to cleaning the environment. Hairs infected with ringworm contain numerous microscopic fungal spores that can be shed into the environment. It important to attempt to keep the environment as free of spores as possible. Carefully disposing of the infected hair, restricting infected animals to easy-to-clean rooms, and thorough vacuuming of rooms to which the animal has access are the best ways to minimize environmental contamination. In addition, the use of diluted bleach is recommended in areas that can be readily disinfected.

 

 

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