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When a beloved pet has diarrhea, it can be cause for concern. A wide variety of illnesses and situations can cause diarrhea. One of the most common causes of diarrhea in cats and dogs is intestinal parasites. Intestinal parasites are so common, veterinarians almost always ask that you bring a stool sample when the pet has an appointment.
There are several different types of intestinal parasites a dog or cat can get, including roundworm, tapeworm, hookworm, whipworm, giardia, and coccidia. How you deal with a pet with worms is important because some of these parasites can be passed to humans.
In most cases of parasite infestations, patients show similar symptoms, the most common of which is diarrhea or poor-quality stool. Depending on the severity of the infestation, blood may sometimes be passed with the stool. Other common symptoms include appetite changes, weight loss, dry coat, vomiting (sometimes with worms in the vomit), and malaise.
Not all parasite infestations cause these symptoms. Some infestations cause very few or no symptoms at all. Depending on the parasite, it is possible for the larvae to remain dormant in your pet's body, only to be activated during a period of stress. For instance, roundworms and hookworms tend to activate in the late stages of pregnancy and thereby infest puppies and kittens prior to birth.
In a parasite infestation, early detection and treatment is crucial. If left untreated, worms cause a variety of serious health problems for a pet. Testing stool samples is one of the most effective ways to check for parasites, because their microscopic eggs often will be contained in the feces. The actual worms themselves do not leave the body unless they are vomited up.
The reason for this is because once they are outside the body, the worms die. But using a simple stool sample, the veterinarian will be able to confirm or rule-out the existence of the worms.
Keep in mind that tapeworm eggs may not show up in the feces, but sometimes their segments will. If you think your pet has tapeworms, then look for rice-like segments caught in the fur under their tail and in their stool.
Treating a dog or cat who is infested with intestinal parasites usually involves de-worming medications. There are several different types of de-worming solutions available, but not all de-wormers treat all types of parasites.
The type of anti-parasitic agent prescribed by your veterinarian will be determined by the type of parasite evident in your pet's body, and the type and size of the pet patient being treated.
Puppies and kittens should be treated routinely with a deworming solution at four, six, and eight weeks of age. After that, they should be placed on a monthly heartworm preventive that includes other protection against several of the more-common intestinal parasites.
If your pet is being treated for worms, then there are certain steps you should take to help lower her risk of re-contamination. For instance, you should scoop the litter box and clean up the yard after each bowel movement. You also should treat her with year-round flea preventive, because tapeworms are frequently spread by fleas.
In some cases, your veterinarian also may recommend a disinfectant wash to use on your pet's hindquarters after each defecation. And because some parasites can be passed from pets to their owners, it is crucial to practice good personal hygiene, like washing your hands every time after handling your pet.
Dr. Evan Ware is a veterinary practitioner in Phoenix, Arizona. He received both his undergraduate degree in microbiology and his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from The Ohio State University.
Dr. Ware is currently the Medical Director of University Animal Hospital (VCA) and is also the owner of two other hospitals, including Laveen Veterinary Center and Phoenix Veterinary Center. His areas of expertise include orthopedic medicine and surgery, veterinary oncology and chemotherapy, and general and advanced soft-tissue surgery.
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