This post discusses the 4 most common parasitic worms we can get from our pets, the symptoms they cause and the best ways to treat these worms in our pets and ourselves.
According to the CDC, worms that infect pets can also infect people [i][ii] and by regularly treating parasites in our pets, we can protect ourselves and our families from the parasites that cause disease. We love our pets, but it’s important to understand that if we do not manage the parasites in our pets, we can become infected with the parasites they carry, and it is well known that parasites cause disease.
The scientific paper, The Epidemiology of Multiple Sclerosis: Clues to the Etiology of a Mysterious Disease, reports at least nine retrospective case control studies that have shown significantly more dog exposure among pre-MS patients.
Parasites passed from animals to humans are called zoonotic infections.
How do pets get worms?
Dogs and cats can get worms at any age, but they are most vulnerable to parasites when they are very young. Puppies that are only 2–3 weeks old can have many worms. Worms are usually passed from a mother to her pups in utero before they are born, or parasites are passed to puppies through the mother’s milk.
Worm infected pets will contaminate the soil or ground by passing worm eggs or larvae (immature form) that are present in their feces. A dog or cat can become infected when they swallow dirt contaminated with dog or cat feces infected worm eggs or larvae.
The most common parasitic worms in cats and dogs
Roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms are the 4 most common parasitic worms that live in our pets.
Roundworms and hookworms
Roundworm and hookworm eggs are ingested, hatch and develop into larvae (immature worms), which later grow into adult worms.
Most pets show either minimal or no signs of infection with these worms if the worm burden is low. But as the worms become more populated in our pet, symptoms may include loss of appetite, vomiting and/or weight loss. Heavy infections in puppies and kittens may compromise development and lead to death.
The parasite drug fenbendazole, sold under the brand names Panacur® or Safe-Guard® is used to treat a variety of parasites including roundworms, hookworms, lungworms, whipworms and certain types of tapeworms in dogs. Its use is “off label” or “extra label”[iii] in the treatment of parasites in cats.
The pharmaceutical Nexguard contains the parasite drugs pyrantel pamoate and ivermectin which can be used to treat cats and dogs. Nexguard plus contains pyrantel pamoate, ivermectin and a flee medication. Pyrantel Pamoate controls large roundworms and hookworms in dogs.
Roundworms and Hookworms in humans
When people sit or walk on soil or sand with bare feet, hookworms will attach to their feet, burrow through the skin and travel under the skin causing redness, pain and itching. Both worms can hatch in the stomach and cause fatigue, anemia, stomach pain, weight loss, nausea and diarrhea. Sometimes they travel to other parts of the body and cause more serious complications.
Roundworm or hookworm infections in children can impair their physical and cognitive growth.[iv]
Mebendazole or albendazole are parasitic drugs used in the treatment of roundworms and hookworms.
Whipworms in pets
Whipworms are typically much smaller than other worms (about 2 inches in length maximum) and live in the large intestine. Large numbers of worms can cause bloody diarrhea which becomes chronic and hard to control. Pets become weak and unable to conserve salt, which can lead to dehydration.
Whipworms often give an inaccurate negative test result because female whipworms only lay eggs periodically.
The most common products that are used to treat whipworms are fenbendazole (Pamacur®) or febantel (Drontal Plus®).
Because of the long life cycle of young whipworms, a second deworming about 75 days after the first deworming treatment is recommended. And an additional deworming in between these doses is often recommended for a successful treatment plan.
Milbemycin-based heartworm treatments (such as Sentinel®, Interceptor®, and Trifexis®) will treat whipworms, and their regular use will cover the second deworming as well. Advantage Multi®, which is a moxidectin-based heartworm preventive, will also cover whipworms.
Soil tainted by whipworm eggs will be contaminated for years. It is virtually impossible to remove the eggs from the soil or kill them. It is believed that cats rarely become infected with whipworms.[v]
Whipworms in humans
People with heavy infections can experience frequent, painful bowel movements that contain a mixture of mucus, water and blood. The diarrhea typically smells worse than usual. Severe cases can slow growth in children.
Whipworm is effectively treated with albendazole, mebendazole or ivermectin.
Albendazole should be taken with food. Ivermectin should be taken with water on an empty stomach and the safety of ivermectin for children weighing less than 15 kg has not been established. Neither albendazole nor ivermectin are FDA-approved for treating whipworm. A combination of these two drugs gives a better cure rate.
The drug of choice for treating whipworms in humans is mebendazole.
Tapeworms in dogs
Different species of tapeworms infect pets. Often, dogs and occasionally cats, have tiny tapeworms in their intestines, where they cause no problems for the pet if they are present in small numbers. In humans, these tapeworms can invade the liver and spread throughout the abdomen and the rest of the body and form tumors.
If the tapeworm infection is not detected early, the tumor is not removed soon enough and antiparasitic drugs not prescribed quickly, this infection has a 50 per cent to 75 per cent mortality rate,[vi] potentially higher in people with a compromised immune system.
The first case of the liver form of the tapeworm in a dog was discovered in British Columbia in 2009.[vii] It has since caused severe disease in several other dogs in Western Canada and in Ontario, which is a new region for this parasite.
This tumor can invade the liver, spleen and stomach and the microscopic examination of the “tumor” reveals hundreds of miniature tapeworms in their larval form.[viii]
A tapeworm infestation in a dog can cause it to scoot or drag its back end to relieve itchiness. Segments can be seen near a dog’s anus or in their bedding (about the size of a grain of rice). Tapeworm segments may appear white and move or appear dried out and yellow.
Tapeworms can be diagnosed in our pets through direct observation of tapeworm segments in their stool or around their anus. Fecal testing may find tapeworm eggs but can often be missed in an active tapeworm infection since shedding eggs in the stool may only occur periodically.
Praziquantel is a deworming medication used to treat tapeworm infections in pets.
It is commonly given once as a tablet but is also available as an injection and topical formulation. Common brand names include Drontal, Drontal Plus, and Droncit.
It is important to also control fleas on our pets because if a pet swallows a flea, they can contain a developing tapeworm egg. Flea control includes treating all pets in the house with a flea treatment such as a collar, topical or oral chew and controlling fleas in the home and yard.
Tapeworms in humans
How do worms infect people?
- Dogs and cats infected with these worms pass worm eggs or larvae in their feces. Because pets will pass feces anywhere in a yard, these eggs may contaminate a large area quickly.
- These worm eggs and larvae can survive for weeks and even years in parks, playgrounds and yards.
- Roundworm infections usually happen when soil, sand or plants that have been contaminated with infected animal feces infect hands and are then accidentally put in the mouth and ingested.
- Hookworm infections usually occur when larvae penetrate the skin when people sit or walk on contaminated soil or sand with bare feet.
- Children are more vulnerable to infection than adults because they play on the ground, may put dirty objects in their mouths, and may even eat dirt.
- Roundworms enter the body when ingested as worm eggs that soon hatch into larvae. These larvae travel through the liver, lungs and other organs.
- In small numbers, these worms cause minimal symptoms, however in some cases, they can cause damage to tissue. Some can affect the nerves or even make their way to the eyes. In some cases, they may cause permanent nerve or eye damage, even blindness.
How can I protect my pets, my family and myself against worm infections?
- Have puppies and kittens dewormed by a veterinarian at an early age more than once.
- Start or keep your pets on a drug program that treats and controls worms.
- A veterinarian can recommend treatments for your pet.
- Wash your hands and your children’s hands with soap and water after playing with pets or other animals, after outdoor activities and before handling food or eating.
- Avoid touching soil, sand, plants and other objects that might be contaminated by animal feces with bare hands. Use gloves when gardening.
- Keep play areas, lawns and gardens around your home free of animal feces. Allow pets to only poop in certain areas.
- Bag and dispose of pet feces at least once per week.
- Cover sandboxes when not in use.
- Do not let pets sleep in your bed.
- Wear shoes or flip-flops when walking on soil or sand.
- Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them.
There are real solutions to recover from parasites today!
To restore health, we must focus on treating the cause of inflammation, which are parasites. First, identify the enemy (parasites), then support the body and treat the parasites while following a holistic approach. When parasitic infections are treated effectively, we can overcome inflammation or disease.
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Clinically diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 28, Pam chose an alternative approach to recovery. Now decades later and still symptom free, she coaches others on how to treat the root cause of chronic disease, using a holistic approach. She can teach you how, too.
Pam is the author of Become a Wellness Champion and founder of Live Disease Free. She is a wellness expert, coach and speaker.
The Live Disease Free Academy has helped hundreds of Wellness Champions in over 15 countries take charge of their health and experience profound improvements in their life.