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Protecting Your Pet and Your Family from Internal Parasites

Intestinal parasites include worms such as roundworm, hookworm, tapeworm, and whipworm; as well as protozoan parasites such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and Tritrichomonas. Fortunately, these parasites usually cause mild disease in our pets and, in most cases, are easily controlled and treated. However, some pets have more severe symptoms, particularly very young or very old pets, or those pets with conditions that weaken their immune systems.

Certain types of intestinal parasites can infect people as well, particularly children or people with immune system disorders. In susceptible people, intestinal parasites can cause not only intestinal infections, but also more serious conditions called larva migrans disorders. Intestinal parasites are always going to be in our environment, so in order to protect your pets and the rest of your family, take these simple steps.

Puppies and Kittens

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all puppies and kittens should be regularly dewormed (receive broad-spectrum medication to kill any intestinal parasites present) for the first 12 weeks of life. Puppies and kittens usually become infected with intestinal parasites from their mothers. Ideally, puppies and kittens should be treated every two weeks starting at two weeks of age until they are 12 weeks old.  However, since most puppies and kittens arenít acquired by their new owners and brought to the veterinarian until they are at least eight weeks old, the veterinarian typically performs two dewormings.

Until the puppies and kittens have completed their deworming regimen, take special care when handling the pet or its stools. Children in particular should always be supervised when playing with pet, taught to always wash their hands after petting or handling the pet, and to avoid putting their fingers in their mouths.  Petsí stools should be promptly collected and disposed of, and litter boxes should be cleaned at least daily.

Ongoing Parasite Prevention

All dogs and cats should receive regular intestinal parasite control treatments. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by maintaining pets on monthly heartworm preventative. Most modern monthly heartworm preventatives protect against one or more intestinal parasites as well. Consult your veterinarian to determine which parasite control product makes the most sense for your pet.

Tapeworms are typically contracted either through exposure to fleas that carry the tapeworm larvae or by eating contaminated meat (through hunting outdoors or going through the garbage). The best way to prevent tapeworm infections in your pet is to use an effective monthly flea preventative, and to prevent your pet from hunting wild animals or getting into the garbage.

Early Detection and Treatment

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends that all pets receive a comprehensive wellness examination by a veterinarian every six months. When scheduling your petís examination, be sure to collect a fresh stool specimen from your pet and bring it in for analysis for intestinal parasites. You can use a plastic sandwich bag to collect and store the specimen, or your veterinarian may be able to supply a container.

The most common symptoms of intestinal parasitism are vomiting, diarrhea, or a lack of energy and vigor. In rare cases worms can be seen in the vomitus or stool. Tapeworm infections sometimes result in small white rice grains (tapeworm segments) around the anus and in the fur on the petís rear end.  If any of these symptoms are seen, or if you have any concerns about your petís health, you should contact your veterinarianís office right away.

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Maryland Veterinary Medical Association l PO Box 5407 l Annapolis, MD 21403
phone: 410-268-1311 l fax: 410-268-1322

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