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Josey Ranch Pet Hospital, PC
... where caring makes the difference.

Date: October 6th 2004

Josey Ranch Pet Hospital, PC
... where caring makes the difference.
A Free Service of Josey Ranch Pet Hospital

By Shannon Kosec, RVT

When it is time for your pets yearly vaccines and examination, you may notice that the technician will always try to obtain a fecal sample. Though this process may seem unpleasant to both of you, yearly fecal testing is crucial to ensure the health of your beloved critter. Owners are encouraged to bring a stool sample if so desired, however it is important that the sample be fresh. The importance of yearly fecal testing is important for diagnosing intestinal parasites that can be dangerous to the health of both you and your pet. Some parasites are zoonotic, meaning that they are transmissible to humans. As far as your pets health, here are some types of damage that can be done by parasites: 1. Parasites are depletive, meaning that they rob their host of its nutrition 2. They may traumatize their hosts tissue physically 3. Parasites may stimulate an immune or inflammatory response (allergically) 4. Parasites may release toxins into the host 5. Some types of parasites can cause anemia. Here, some parasites that are common to our area and climatic conditions are described below, as well as preventative measures.


Though most parasites are not seen by the naked eye, roundworms are one exception. When seen in the stool they may resemble spaghetti, or be tightly coiled like a bed spring. Though dogs and cats are both affected by roundworms, they are most commonly seen in puppies. Transmission of these worms can come from direct contact meaning the ingestion of actual parasite eggs via stool or infected grass, water dishes, etc. These types of worms can also be passed to offspring transmammary or transplacentally. This type of transmission occurs when larva become encysted within the mammary tissue of the parent, and explains why many puppies and kittens are born with the parasite. Some signs of roundworms can range from a ?pot belly? appearance, poor weight gain, poor hair coat, vomiting and diarrhea. Some patients have no signs at all, thus the importance of a fecal test. These parasites are easily treatable. Roundworms can be transmitted to humans, and can cause a disease known as visceral larval migrans, wherein the larva of the parasite becomes encysted in any organ. This can be especially harmful if it occurs in the eye.


Unlike roundworms, hookworms are not visible to the naked eye. These parasites are seen in both dogs and cats, though they are very uncommon in cats. Hookworms are easily contracted from direct contact with affected stools via skin penetration, ingestion of the parasites eggs or an infected host, or by transmammary means. Some signs of hookworms may be diarrhea, bloody stools, mucousy stools, weight loss, poor hair coat, lethargy, and pale gums. Because each hookworm has three sets of teeth, infestation with this parasite can cause profound anemia, especially in puppies. Hookworms are also zoonotic, and can penetrate human skin. Always pick up stools from your yard, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling puppies.


Occasionally, whipworms can be seen in the stool of dogs. They will resemble a whip, with the front of the worm being very thin like the lash of a whip, and the rear of the worm becoming thick, resembling a handle. This parasite is extremely uncommon in cats, especially in North America . Whipworms are passed by ingestion or other direct contact with an infected stool, or in an infected environment, and are not usually zoonotic. Some signs and symptoms of whipworms can include diarrhea (especially in cycles), bloody stools, mucus stools, weight loss, and poor hair coat. Though whipworms are easily treatable, eggs in the environment can be difficult to kill. Bleach (1%), steam sterilization, and direct sunlight are helpful in kennel situations.


Tapeworms are probably the most common parasite seen in our area. This parasite is clearly visible to the naked eye, and will often be seen on stools of infected dogs or cats. On stools, these worms will resemble a cucumber seed or a piece of rice and they may be motile. Evidence of tapeworms can also be seen in bedding or on the fur around the animals rectum, and may look like a small piece of dried or uncooked rice. The visible parts of the tapeworm are actually detached segments of the adult worm from inside of the body that are migrating down through the animals rectum and outside of the body. Because these segments are motile, they usually cause intense itching that may manifest itself as ?scooting? or constant licking of the rectal area. Tapeworms are obtained only from ingestion of an infected flea, and are not transmissible to humans or other animals. Flea prevention is crucial to ensure that your pet does not become infected with a tapeworm. Although tapeworms are not usually pathogenic, they can cause severe discomfort to your pets and they may rob them of some nutrition. Tapeworms are easily treatable.


Protozoans are single celled organisms and include all types of coccidian, as well as Giardia which is a mobile protozoan. Coccidia is a generalized term that includes many specific types of protozoans such as Toxoplasma, Isospora, and Sarcocystis species. Coccidia are very common in puppies and kittens and are known to cause very foul smelling stools that may be gray in color. They are easily transmissible through contaminated drinking water and other methods of direct contact. Many species of coccidia are zoonotic, and much care should be taken when picking up stools and cleaning a litter box. Pregnant women should be especially cautious and always wear gloves when cleaning the litter box, as coccidia can cause birth defects or abortion if contracted during pregnancy. However, please do not abandon the family cat in fear of coccidia. These parasites are easily treatable in pets, and with some basic hygiene and preventative measures, you can ensure that you and your kitty can continue on with your normal daily lives. Litter boxes should be cleaned every day, as Toxoplasma only becomes infectious to humans after 24 hours outside the cats body.

Most parasites are easily treatable and preventable. If you ever suspect that a parasite has invaded your pet, a simple fecal test will usually diagnose the problem easily. These tests are done yearly upon physical exam, but are very inexpensive if needed more frequently. Several products such as Heartguard, Sentinel, and Revolution can help prevent many types of parasites, and flea prevention is also key for the prevention of tapeworms. Flea and parasite prevention products such as Sentinel, Revolution, Frontline, and Advantix are readily available from your veterinarian. Talk to your veterinarian about which products are right for your pet, and dont forget some basics for prevention of parasites infecting you or your family. Always pick up stools, wash your hands after playing with puppies and kittens or handling stools, wear gloves when in doubt, and discourage children from going barefoot outside, especially in or near a sandbox.

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