Last week at our weekly staff meeting, I was discussing some data that I had just received showing that only 50% of our canine patients are on heartworm prevention. This started a conversation about why this number is so low. I believe it’s because many people don’t understand the difference between heartworms and intestinal parasites. I decided to get the word out!
Intestinal parasites are exactly what the name implies; they are worms that live in the intestinal tract (heartworms are worms that live in the heart). Roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms are the most common intestinal parasites in our geographical area.
Roundworms and hookworms are very common in puppies and kittens as they are transmitted from their mother while they are in the uterus or through the mother’s milk. The adult worms live in the intestinal tract most of their lives and produce microscopic eggs that pass in the feces. Did you know that one female roundworm can produce more than 100,000 eggs per day? Only under severe infestation or after deworming will you see adult worms passed in the stool. These two parasites can also be transmitted to people, especially children, as they are often less careful about hygiene, more likely to put their hands in their mouths and commonly play in potentially contaminated soil. A recent study revealed that 14% of the human population is infected with these parasites.
Tapeworms got their name because they are thin and flat, like strips of tape. A tapeworms body is made of jointed segments which detach and are seen around the pet’s rectum or in their stool and they look like rice segments. These segments cannot infect other cats or dogs. The only way that dogs and cats become infected is by eating an infected flea or rodent. Therefore, a flea eradication program is important to prevent further infestation.
There are many oral and some topical medications used to treat intestinal parasites. A few of these products are available over the counter and unfortunately, don’t work very well. Now to the main point of this entire article: I believe that many people go to the store and get dewormer for their pets and believe that they are also treating their pet for heartworms. Heartworm prevention is a prescription only medication, which means you must get it from your veterinarian. Heartworm prevention and medication to treat intestinal parasites are relatively inexpensive and prevent transmission to other animals and, most importantly, humans. Ask your veterinarian about the products that they recommend.