There is no delicate way to discuss parasitic worms, but, for your pet’s sake and your own health, being informed can save a good deal of heartache and expense. South Carolina is home to a variety of internal parasites that desire nothing more than to live inside your beloved pet, enjoy a steady diet of blood or body nutrients and slowly weaken your four-legged companion until, if left untreated, the poor animal finally succumbs.
According to Stephanie Cruz, D.V.M., at Banfield Pet Hospital in Taylors, “We commonly see roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms, which are all zoonotic worms. This means that they can be spread from animals to humans.”
Yes, humans, and especially children, are also susceptible to some of these invaders.
Roundworms are spaghetti-like in appearance, usually white or light brown and a few inches long. Both cats and dogs are susceptible, especially when young. Pregnant mothers can carry dormant larvae for years that reactivate during their pregnancy. Baby kittens and puppies have immature immune systems and no way to fight off the invaders that have attacked in utero or through nursing. Eggs are laid in the digestive tract and passed through the animal’s feces, contaminating the soil. Any pet who shares that space can inhale the eggs by sniffing or accidentally eating them when playing with a toy or poking through feces, and so the cycle repeats. Humans who accidentally ingest roundworm eggs can become seriously ill.
Like roundworms, hookworms can kill young pets. They attach themselves to the lining of the intestine and feed on the blood. Methods of transmission are similar, except that hookworm larvae can also burrow through the skin both of animals and humans.
Tapeworms are segmented, flat worms. Their eggs can be ingested by yard animals and insects, including fleas. These infected creatures become the secondary hosts. When they bite or are devoured by your pets, the journey continues. Humans rarely become infected in this way, but, when they do, the condition is life-threatening.
Whipworms prefer dogs. They have a thick front end and slimmer back end. Although these invaders share a similar worm life cycle, they are not a threat to humans.
Lungworms, which can be fatal in cats; esophageal worms; kidney worms; bloodworms; and liver flukes also can cause problems for pets.
Perhaps one of the most lethal internal parasites is the heartworm, which can kill both dogs and cats. Dr. Cruz reported that South Carolina is one of the top five states with confirmed heartworm cases. Unlike the other varieties of worms, these killers are transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. The warm, humid climate of South Carolina is an excellent breeding ground for insects and increases the chances of your pet being infected. Heartworms can grow up to 27 centimeters long and live up to seven years. They migrate to the heart and lung region, and, left alone, they will shorten your pet’s life or kill it. Treatment is costly and lengthy.
After all this disheartening information, Glenn Adcock, D.V.M., at Pine Street Animal Hospital in Spartanburg, offered hope: “Don’t just assume. Common symptoms such as weight loss, dual hair coat, chronic diarrhea and vomiting can be due to a lot of different issues. Always seek professional help and get a diagnosis before treating. Once a parasite has been identified, your veterinarian will tailor a treatment plan specifically for your pet.”
Both Drs. Cruz and Adcock agreed that the best way to prevent these problems is to get your pets on a good flea, tick and heartworm preventive before they become infected. Many of these medications will also handle the other common intestinal parasites. Your veterinarian can recommend the best brand for your kitten, puppy or adult pet to ensure a longer, healthier life.
By Janet E. Perrigo
For more information, contact Banfield Pet Hospital in Taylors at 864-879-1344 or visit www.banfield.com, or contact Pine Street Animal Hospital in Spartanburg at 864-585-0231 or visit www.pinestreetanimalhospital.com