There’s no question about it—pets often get themselves into messy situations. But, when fecal material is involved, the situation can pose a threat not only to your furry pal, but also to you. Many intestinal parasites are zoonotic, meaning they can be passed from animals to people, and can also linger in your environment for months or years. While only a few intestinal parasites likely won’t cause much trouble, they can rapidly multiply as your pet sheds eggs and is reinfected—not to mention that it’s disturbing to think of your pet harboring worms inside their intestines.  

To protect your pet, yourself, and your family from potentially contracting an intestinal parasite, study up on the lifecycle of common intestinal worms, the signs they cause, and how long they can last in your environment. 

Roundworms in pets

Roundworms are the most common intestinal parasite found in pets. These worms can be passed to your furry pal in a variety of ways, making them easy to spread, and hard to control. Almost all dogs have had roundworms during their lifetime, since the worms commonly are passed from the mother to the puppies while they are still in utero. Roundworm eggs, or larvae, can also be passed through the mother’s milk, or when contaminated fecal material, or an infected mouse or other small mammal, are ingested. 

While many pets do not show roundworm infection signs, a heavy parasite load can cause vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, dull hair coat, and a pot-bellied appearance. You may see adult roundworms, which look like white or light-brown pieces of string, in your pet’s vomit or stool. 

  • Zoonotic potential — Contact with contaminated soil or pet feces can result in inadvertent ingestion; for example, children who play in a sandbox that a stray cat has used and contaminated, and then eat a snack without washing their hands. Infection in people can cause eye, heart, lung, and neurologic issues.
  • Environmental hardiness — Roundworm eggs are resistant to temperature and humidity changes, and harsh chemicals. Only extreme heat can kill the eggs, which can remain infective in the environment for years, if not destroyed by fire, or extremely high temperatures. 

Tapeworms in pets

Several tapeworm species can infect your pet. These long, flat worms, which consist of several segments, each with its own reproductive organs, attach themselves to your pet’s intestinal walls. Tapeworm infections are often diagnosed when small, white segments appear around your pet’s hind end, in their feces, or where they sleep, because pets seldom show any illness signs. Your pet can become infected with tapeworms by eating an intermediate host, such as a flea, small rodent, or rabbit, or biting an infected large animal.

  • Zoonotic potential — People become infected with tapeworms by ingesting contaminated meat or feces. Tapeworms rarely cause serious disease in people in the U.S., although some can lead to illness, and the formation of hydatid cysts.
  • Environmental hardiness — Some tapeworm eggs can live in the environment for up to eight months, so prompt disposal of pet waste is crucial for preventing infection.

Hookworms in pets

Hookworms are a more serious threat to pets than roundworms or tapeworms, since they attach to the intestinal wall lining, and feed on the pet’s blood. A serious hookworm infestation can result in enough blood loss to cause severe anemia, and can kill puppies and kittens. Older pets may suffer from chronic diarrhea and weight loss, if not treated. 

The hookworms thrive in your pet’s intestinal tract, shed their eggs in your pet’s feces, and the eggs then hatch out in the soil. Their next victim becomes infected through contact with the larvae, which can either penetrate the pet’s skin, or be ingested during grooming. 

  • Zoonotic potential — Hookworms can also infect people through skin penetration. Infection commonly occurs when people walk barefoot on the beach, work in the garden, or contact infected soil. Infection usually causes itching in the area where the larvae entered the skin, which is easily visible from the tracks on the skin.
  • Environmental hardiness — Fortunately, hookworm larvae are much easier to eradicate from the soil than roundworms. Sunlight, freezing, desiccation, and some chemicals can kill the larvae. 

Now that learning how intestinal parasites can affect you and your furry pal has given you the heebie-jeebies, you likely want to ensure your parasite prevention stash never runs low. Sign up for autoship through Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital’s online pharmacy, and your pet will be protected each month. If your pet has a parasite issue, promptly pick up their stool to prevent reinfection. Drop that fresh stool sample off at our hospital, so we can check for parasites, or schedule an appointment for us to examine your pet.