As a pet owner, I can think of maybe a couple things I enjoy MORE than picking up a sample of my dog or cat’s poop and bringing it to the veterinary hospital for their “Annual Fecal Exam.” I recently contemplated the necessity of this as I found myself bending down, with my annual, soon-to-be-sacrificed, tupperware bowl, to scoop up a sample of my dog’s fecal material. Even though I work in a veterinary hospital (and have a veterinarian as my better half), I still question it’s value in contribution to the annual exam. My short pause in thought is soon interrupted as I am quickly reminded of its necessity – bent over the small pile on the grass, I feel a wet lick on my left cheek by my beloved Kodi who thinks I am praising her latest accomplishment.
Animals get parasites because they have animal behaviors. They sniff and lick at disgusting things; they walk through fields and alleys barefoot and then lick their feet – and our faces! When allowed, they hunt, kill, and eat birds, rodents and rabbits. In fact, my dog would gladly eat rabbit poop and roll around in raccoon droppings all day if we’d let her! And while I always try to keep a watchful eye on my pets, there are occasions when I will find them picking something up at the Arroyo Verde dog park or in our backyard a little too late.
We are surrounded by wildlife in Ventura County, and all wildlife carry parasites. Many parasite eggs survive for long periods of time in the grass or soil, waiting for our pets to come along and pick them up. Dogs and cats are most commonly infected when they ingest intestinal worm eggs that have been passed through the feces of an infected animal. Tapeworms can be transmitted to pets that ingest fleas or other intermediate hosts, such as small rodents, that carry tapeworm larvae. If that wasn’t bad enough, ninety-five percent of puppies and kittens are born with intestinal parasites – some worm species can even be transmitted to puppies and kittens through the mother’s milk. And did I mention that the favored snack of many of our furry friends, crickets and grasshoppers, can pass roundworms on to your pets too?
There are a seemingly a million ways in which they can contract a parasite. The most common parasites we see in veterinary medicine are roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and giardia. These parasites don’t only present a danger to your pet – some parasites can be transferred from pets and infect people- most commonly children – and bring the risk of zoonotic disease along with them. Zoonotic diseases are defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as “disease(s) that can be passed between animals and humans… caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi.” Due to the risks these diseases carry, comprehensive parasite prevention is important not only for protecting your furry friend, but for protecting you and your family as well.
In the case of roundworms, pet owners can accidentally ingest infected worm eggs that have been passed through the pet’s feces and left dormant in the environment. The eggs hatch in the owner’s intestinal tract and even though the worm isn’t in its correct host, it adapts and often completes its lifecycle anyway. Immature worms travel to various tissues and eventually die somewhere in the body – but not before potentially causing serious infection.
It is estimated that more than 10,000 people – the majority of which are children – contract roundworms every year in the U.S. Of those, 700 of them suffer blindness or permanent visual impairment when the worm dies after traveling to the human eye. For this reason, it is important for pet owners to be aware of this hazard. Proper hand-washing is the best defense against this human infection.
For all of these reasons, we strongly recommend ANNUAL fecal examinations to ensure that all types of parasites have been addressed and dealt with accordingly. For your convenience, we have fecal kits – (with gloves!) – available for you to take home. We also recommend monthly pet deworming for dogs with Trifexis or Heartgard Plus to reduce environmental contamination. For our feline friends, we recommend using a topical dewormer and parasite control such as Revolution, which will also protect your cat from heartworms. Proactive parasite prevention is one of the best choices you can make for making sure you have a happy, healthy pet – as well as keeping your family safe from any potential pesky infections!
~ K. Burner