Cats and dogs of any age can carry intestinal parasites at any time in their lives. Kittens and puppies are often born with worms in their stomachs and guts that should be addressed shortly after they are born. It is recommended that all puppies and kittens be tested for the intestinal pests and be treated twice with de-worming medication. There are three common types of worms dogs and cats are most susceptible to: hookworms, roundworms and tapeworms. Keep in mind that heartworms are different as they reside in the animal’s bloodstream and heart.
Hookworms are especially dangerous to dogs and cats as they cause blood loss through the intestinal walls. Puppies and kittens with hookworms often die of anemia if the infestation isn’t caught and treated quickly. Hookworms can transfer from pet to human through the skin, so it is critical to treat the parasite infestation aggressively. Pyrantel is typically the drug of choice for getting rid of hookworms in pets.
Signs: dark, tarry stools, pale mucus membranes, poor appetite, constipation, dry cough
Hookworm is diagnosed through a fecal examination for eggs.
Puppies and kittens are often born with roundworm. This infestation gives the young animals a distended belly while the rest of the body is thin. Roundworms also cause blood loss through the intestinal walls and are transferable to humans as well. Pet owners with roundworm infested animals often see the worms when they are vomited up or passed through stool. The worms resemble fat spaghetti noodles and will curl up in a tight spiral once expelled from the body. Pyrantel is also used to eliminate roundworms.
Signs: abdominal distension, pain, anorexia, scant feces, cough, weakness
Roundworm is diagnosed through fecal examination for eggs.
There is only one way for a pet to contract tapeworms and that is by ingesting fleas infected with the worm’s eggs. Live tapeworms will crawl out of the animal’s rectum and are often seen moving around on freshly eliminated stool. Tapeworm segments are described as looking like a single piece of rice – flat and 1/2″ or shorter in length. Tapeworms are relatively harmless, but they do cause severe itching in and around the anus. Dogs infested with tapeworms will drag their rears on the floor in an attempt to curb the itching. Praziquantel is used to get rid of a tapeworm infestation, but it’s important to note that if the animal has fleas, and the condition is not addressed properly, it is very likely the animal will contract tapeworms again within a month.
Signs: dragging rear on the floor, visible evidence of tapeworm segments on fresh stool
It is possible for an animal to be infested with more than type of intestinal parasite at once. If you think your dog or cat may have worms, be sure to seek a proper diagnosis from your vet. There are over-the-counter de-worming medications on the market, but these should only be used once a proper diagnosis has been made.