Mar 18 2013

We’ve got worms!

Quick overview on intestinal parasites since it’s that time of year again!   A review of the most common offenders that make you say, “EWW!”
 Picture of a hookworm
Microscopic image of a canine hookworm with the “vampire-like teeth”
Image courtesy of:
These worms are considered our little vampires as they feed on blood.  With enough worms, animals can become anemic (low red blood cell count).  Hookworms are spread by ingestion of the larvae (from eating or nursing from mom) or penetration of the skin while contacting the soil.  They then migrate through the body to the small intestines where they mature and suck blood.  The worms then lay eggs that are passed in the stool.  These eggs hatch into larva and are ready to infect again!  Since hookworms can be spread through the mother’s milk, they are very common for young puppies/kittens to have.  One of the reasons why all young animals should have a proper deworming.  And if that wasn’t enough, another reason to always treat hookworms – we can get them!  If they are in the soil, they can migrate through the skin of our bare feet with their “vampire teeth” and will burrow around under our skin.  Gross!
Roundworms are an important parasite as well since they can cause significant problems for us if infected.  These worms can lead to visceral larval migrans (migration of the larva through our tissue including skin and even into the eyes – causing blindness).  The normal lifecycle of these worms starts with the eggs being passed in the stool of an affected dog or cat.  These eggs then develop in the environment.  From there, the eggs are then ingested by small mammals (usually squirrels or rodents) and bury into the host tissues.  A dog or cat is infected by either hunting and eating that squirrel or by ingesting the eggs directly from the ground (for all those animals who love to eat poop….).  The worms then mature in the small intestines of our companions and produce eggs to renew the cycle.  This is one of the best reasons to routinely check fecal analysis and deworm our hunters and “potty mouths”.  Just like hookworms, puppies and kittens can get roundworms from their mother, either before they are born or through the milk.  Be sure to deworm these guys starting at a young age!
A lot of people ask if their child can give pinworms to their dog.  The answer is no.  Some worms are not able to be transferred between different species.  The same is true for whipworms as they only infect dogs.  Mature worms live in the cecum.  They produce eggs which are passed in the stool and then mature in the ground.  Whipworms especially have very tough eggs.  These eggs are very resistant to weather and can live in the soil for months.  The eggs are eventually ingested by another dog (or the same dog!) and it starts the cycle again.  Certain heartworm preventions deworm for whipworms as well.  It is generally recommended to use those heartworm preventions for dogs with previous whipworm infections since those eggs are most likely still in the yard.
Now tapeworms are the mac daddy of the worms.  These worms can get incredibly long!  The longest recorded tapeworm from a human (yes, humans can get these too…) is 37 feet long!  If that’s not bad enough, the longest tapeworm ever found is from a whale (luckily, not the same type of tapeworm…) and it was 120 feet long.  Glad I’m not a whale.  The biggest culprit for tapeworms for our pets are fleas.  Tapeworms live in the small intestines and produce segments which contain the eggs.  These segments are passed in the stool.  They can also migrate on their own and be found around the anal area.  They look like little grains of rice and can even be seen moving!  Gives me the “heebee geebees”!  These eggs are then ingested by flea larva and mature inside the flea as it grows up.  Fleas then jump on our pets and cause the itch as they bite and feed.  To stop the itch, our pets lick or chew at the fleas and end up ingesting some.  The tapeworms inside the fleas then mature and make eggs.  So, if you are seeing tapeworms, there must have been fleas present at some point!
Stayed tuned for the next post on deworming medications and prevention of these nasty little parasites!
Dr. Freihaut

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