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What's bugging your pet?

Particularly in spring and summer, "worms" (internal parasites) can invade and often damage your dog's or cat's intestinal tract, stomach, and many other organs. Each kind of parasite has a different life cycle; each damages different organs and requires differing medications and control practices. A precise diagnosis from your veterinarian is necessary.

Using over-the-counter medicines for worms" can delay proper treatment and complicate an already serious illness. All wormers" are potential poisons; they must be used carefully. Worming with the wrong medicine or at an incorrect dosage-or using wormers in an animal already sick--can have disastrous results.

How Can I Tell If My

Animal Has Worms?

Parasites are often unnoticed until the pet (the host) can no longer compensate for the damage. Cats and dogs are equally susceptible to worms. Some signs to look for are vomiting; chronic or intermittent diarrhea; pale mucous membranes (indicating anemia); poor hair coat; loss of weight; failure to grow properly despite a good diet; coughing; bloated bellies (in puppies); or blood in the stool (in kittens). (Contrary to popular belief, eating grass or scooting on the rear end is not usually a sign of worms.) Weakness or sudden death in puppies before or at weaning can be caused by excessive blood loss due to hookworm infection. These symptoms may not all appear in each case; pets that show none of these signs may still have worms.

Although parasites can cause serious illness or even death, they aren't necessarily serious if treated promptly. The most reliable way to tell if your dog or cat has worms is for your veterinarian to check a fresh bowel movement. This step is particularly important in mild, damp climates, where parasites thrive best. What Are Some Common Parasites?

Roundworms (Ascarides)-These parasites, common in both dogs and cats, are more often seen in young animals. They may be seen in bowel movements, or they may be vomited as long, rounded parasites up to four inches long. Pets pick up the larvae (immature forms) of the parasite from areas contaminated with stool or from their mothers when nursing. The larvae, which migrate through the liver and lungs, may cause coughing and extensive damage to these organs. Improper treatment can be dangerous.

Hookworms-Hookworms, seen in dogs and cats of all ages, attach to the intestinal wall and suck blood, causing a severe anemia. They can be passed from the mother to the young through her milk. Pets can pick up these worms from areas contaminated with the droppings of other animals.

Whipworms-These small worms are found in the lower bowels of dogs and puppies. Because their eggs are resistant to exposure to the elements, they can be difficult to control. They cause a chronic, bloody diarrhea, loss of weight, and nutritional deficiencies.

Tapeworms-Tapeworms, visible as small, moving white ricelike segments on your pet's anal area and in the stool, can be difficult to eradicate completely because they pass through fleas, rabbits, and small rodents as the intermediate hosts. Pets get the worms when they eat rabbits or rodents or accidentally ingest fleas. Although as a first step you can keep pets from hunting, total flea control is often very difficult. Frequent worming may be needed. Affected animals have an "under the weather" appearance, poor haircoats, or weight loss. However, pets harboring tapeworms can look perfectly healthy.

Protozoan parasites-Once a pet is infected with the parasites Coccidia and Giardia, they may never be completely eliminated; repeat episodes of diarrhea (perhaps with blood) may occur when the pet is under stress. Your veterinarian can give you medication to treat the problem.

Heartworms-Heartworms live in the hearts and large arteries of dogs as well as of cats and other animals. Spread from animal to animal by mosquito bites, they are now found in most parts of the country. Symptoms may not be seen for years after the initial infection. Meanwhile, the infection can spread from the infected dog to other animals and even man. Symptoms include coughing, exercise intolerance, labored breathing, and other signs of heart failure. Treatment is best done before other organs like the liver and kidneys are damaged. A very effective and safe preventive can be prescribed by your veterinarian-after blood tests determine that your dog is free of infection.

Other parasites-Parasites of the bladder, kidneys, lungs, and skin may also affect your pet, but they are less commonly seen.

How Are Parasites Treated?

Your veterinarian will prescribe specific medications for the parasites your pet has. After treatment, the vet will tell you how to disinfect and clean your pet's living areas to prevent reinfection. A repeat treatment will be necessary to ensure that all parasites are dead. Follow-up examinations as recommended by your pet's veterinarian monitor the success of your hygiene-and-treatment program.

Timing is the key to getting rid of worms and their damage for good. Ask your veterinarian for a copy of the Gaines booklet How to Control Worms in Dogs, an informative booklet that explains more about the parasites that can affect your pet. You can also obtain a copy by writing to Quaker Pet Center, P.O. Box 9001, Chicago, IL 60604-9001.

Can I Get Worms from My Pet?

Several parasites can be transmitted from pets to people-another good reason to keep pets parasite free. Few cause serious problems in healthy adults. However, young children and infants, unborn fetuses, or others with depressed immunity may be affected.

Roundworms can migrate to the brain, the eyes, or the internal organs of children. (See "Medical Mystery," page 46.)

Giardia can cause diarrhea in people of any age.

Hookworms can cause skin eruptions and irritation.

Tapeworms can cause some abdominal pain and diarrhea. Small children are the most frequent victims.

Heartworms found encysted in the lungs of people have been confused with lung cancer on X-rays.

Toxoplasmosis can cause congenital defects or abortion of the human fetus if contracted by the mother during pregnancy. It can cause flulike symptoms in children and adults.

Several steps can be taken to reduce the chances of parasites' being passed from pets to people.

Cover children's sandboxes when not in use.

Keep pets free of parasites as recommended by your veterinarian. This may entail frequent visits in some cases. Watch pets closely for such signs as visible worms in the stool, diarrhea with or without blood, and chronic vomiting.

If you're pregnant, avoid coming into contact with cat feces, eating rare or raw meat, and gardening without wearing gloves.

Keep children away from areas contaminated with dog feces in public parks and playgrounds. When walking your dog, clean up after him and encourage others to do the same.

Teach children to wash their hands thoroughly after handling pets and to avoid kissing pets on the mouth.

Ask your vet to recommend cleaning and disinfection methods. What Can I Do to Protect My Pet

from Parasites?

Have pets' stool samples checked periodically by your vet. Let the vet prescribe the proper medications on the proper schedule for effective parasite removal. Do not rely on over-the-counter worm medicines, which are often ineffective and dangerous.

Keep pets away from areas frequented by large numbers of strange animals and strays. This includes city parks. Fence your yard to keep out strays. Clean up after your pets when you do go out.

Use preventives where available. Your veterinarian can prescribe preventives for heartworms as well as for some other intestinal parasites.

Practice good flea control.

Prevent pets from hunting if at all possible.

Treat female dogs as needed before breeding them, and keep whelping areas clean.

Keep pet areas clean, clean, clean! Clean droppings out of the yard, kennel, or litter box at least four times a week. Dispose of feces properly.
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Title Annotation:Vets on Pets; internal parasites
Author:Hoeppner, Gabrielle
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:column
Date:Apr 1, 1990
Previous Article:Silent and not-so-silent heart attacks.
Next Article:All My Best Friends.

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