No one likes to hear that their pet could—and probably will—get an intestinal parasite at some point during her life. Most pet owners would rather avoid the topic, but knowing the basic facts is important, because intestinal parasites can cause serious health conditions. That’s why we’ve compiled the most common questions pet owners ask, and the information they need to know, about internal parasites.

1: What are intestinal parasites?

Intestinal parasites are parasitic worms that primarily inhabit the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The most common intestinal parasites are roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and whipworms. The worms vary in size and potential disease severity, depending on the age of your pet and infestation severity.

2: How does my pet become infected with intestinal parasites?

Roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms are transmitted when your pet eats the larvae in rodent or other dogs’ feces, or an infected flea. Hookworms burrow through your pet’s skin to lay eggs.

3: Why are intestinal parasites a big deal for my pet?

Roundworms can stunt growth in puppies and kittens, and hookworms can cause life-threatening anemia. Any parasitic infection can cause inflammation and immune-system issues. If your pet has another medical condition, such as diabetes, the parasitic infection may make it worse. All these parasites can shut down major body systems if the infestation goes unchecked, and be life-threatening.

4: Are parasites contagious among pets?

Intestinal parasites are contagious to other animals and humans. Because they primarily inhabit the GI tract, larvae, or eggs, are passed in the feces. The infective larvae then inhabit the soil around the feces, leaving other dogs, and children, vulnerable to accidental ingestion and subsequent infection.

5: What are the signs of intestinal parasitic infection?

Your pet’s signs will vary, depending on the type of infection. Roundworm-infected puppies and kittens often have a pot-bellied appearance. Diarrhea, bloody stool, weight loss, and anemia can indicate disease, but infected pets often don’t show any signs until they are seriously ill. Because most parasites produce only eggs, you cannot rely on seeing any worms to know your pet is infected. Fecal testing for larvae is the only way a diagnosis can be made.

6: How will my infected pet be treated?

Treatment varies with infection type and severity. We may prescribe an anti-parasitic medication and antibiotics. If your pet has a recurring infection, she will need dedicated care to prevent reinfection, because recontamination from the environment and reinfection are always possible.

7: How do I protect my pet and myself from infection?

Routine deworming is the easiest and least expensive way to prevent your pet from developing a sustained parasitic infection. In addition, you should keep your dog away from community or high-traffic dog areas, such as sandboxes, walking paths, and dog parks, if possible. Good personal hygiene, such as washing your hands before eating and not walking barefoot outside, are good preventive measures for people. 

It’s not fun to think about your pet—or you or a family member—suffering with intestinal parasites. This basic information should help arm you against these unwelcome visitors to your pet and in your home, and, fortunately, preventive treatment is inexpensive and easy. If you suspect your pet may be infected, act quickly and seek veterinary attention. We can help safeguard you and your pet against parasites and the infections they cause, so call our hospital and make an appointment if you have concerns.