Parasites matter to both your pet and your family. Did you know that some could be passed on to humans from their pets? It is important to understand which parasites can affect our pets as well as us, and how to avoid them. We list the most common ones below.
What are Parasites?
Parasites are invasive organisms that live in the body of a host from which they take all of their nutrients and energy. Although parasites are common in dogs and cats, they can cause serious health issues.
How Do Animals Become Infested With Parasites?
Animals get parasites in a variety of ways, the most common of which are contact with infected feces or consumption of affected animals, such as when cats eat rodents outdoors.
Which Parasites are the Most Common?
There are many species of parasites, but these are the most common and tend to affect most dogs and cats:
- Hookworms: Hookworms are small, white or reddish-brown parasites that use specialized hooks mounted on their heads to attach themselves to the small intestine of dogs and cats. Animals become infected with hookworms through skin transmission or ingestion but also transmission to puppies during lactation can occur. Hookworm infection can result in lung, skin, and intestinal disease in adult dogs and cats, but more worryingly acute, life-threatening anemia can occur in puppies and kittens. Humans can catch hookworms through skin penetration or by ingesting the worm larvae.
- Roundworms: The roundworm is a large and particularly aggressive type of parasite that is capable of laying 200,000 eggs per day. These eggs turn into larvae, which migrate through the animal’s lungs and liver before landing in the small intestine, where they mature into worms. Roundworms may cause diarrhea, weight loss and lethargy in animals and other more serious conditions in humans (especially children). Additionally, roundworm can be transmitted to humans who accidentally ingest the roundworm eggs. Approximately 13.9% of the U.S. population has antibodies to roundworms which equates to tens of millions of Americans being exposed to the parasite.
- Tapeworms: Tapeworms are long, thin parasites that can easily grow to be feet long. Many pets have tapeworms, although veterinarians believe that the condition is underdiagnosed. Unlike other types of parasites, tapeworms do not often cause noticeable physical symptoms and may go for long periods of time without being detected. Tapeworms are transmitted to humans when infected fleas are ingested.
- Toxoplasma gondii: A Protozoan parasite found in cats, this parasite causes toxoplasmosis, a disease that can be passed on to humans. Cats are usually infected by eating diseased animals and it is transmitted to humans through food or water containing oocysts that are excreted in the cat's feces. To learn more about the symptoms, treatment and prevention of toxoplasmosis, read our article Toxoplasmosis 101.
How to Prevent Transmission
One of the easiest ways to ensure that pets do not transmit parasites to people is to ensure that pets don’t have parasites in the first place. To do this, it is important to take your pet to a veterinarian and have them placed on a routine worming schedule. Additionally, the animal should see a vet during any instance of diarrhea.
For further safety, people should be careful to remove pet droppings from public areas and pet parents with cats should always wash hands with warm soapy water immediately after cleaning the litter box.
Although parasites are an unfortunate reality of pet parenting, it is easy to lower the risk of parasites for both pets and humans by practicing regular deworming in animals and good hygiene in people.
Content reviewed by a veterinarian
Photo ©iStock.com/Paolo Cipriani