I realize that the last 48 hours has turned our neighbourhoods back into a winter wonderland but the reality is that as the snow melts and we do begin to experience spring, we will come across a problem that is hard to ignore. Anywhere you go (including many front and back yards), there is dog poop that never got picked up! Of course, what comes to mind for me as a veterinarian when I think of all of that dog poop is the need to have a conversation about parasites.
This may sound like a silly topic but, every year around this time the snow melts and all of the parasites that have been lying in wait come to life. We see an abundance of stool samples positive for all types of parasites and many pets who suffer from symptoms that range from soft stools and flatulence to more serious issues like severe vomiting and diarrhea, anemia and compromised immune systems. Parasites literally feed off and live inside pets – this can be a dangerous situation, not just for your pet, but for those in your household as many are transferable to humans. Not just gross, this is a serious health issue for the whole family.
Depending on where you live, the weather, exposure to wildlife, contact with other pets, the presence of livestock etc., the risk of getting parasitic infestations will vary. Some parasites can be seen by the naked eye (like roundworms and tapeworms), but most internal parasites are microscopic and so, while pets may shed eggs in their poop, nothing will appear out of the ordinary. That is the reason why we recommend bringing in a stool sample with our puppy visits and at each annual examination. While most people think this only applies to dogs, outdoor cats should also have their stool tested along with indoor cats who have a risk of exposure. Exposure may come from living with pets that go outdoors or having owners who have a high likelihood of bringing contaminants like animal feces in on their shoes (for example, from a farm or hiking trails). If you have young children or an immunocompromised adult in your home, it’s very important that your pets have routine fecal sample examinations. The risk of parasites within a household also increases in multi-pet households and in pets who scavenge on rodents and other small animals.
As per the Canadian Parasitology Expert Panel (CPEP), there are several precautions you can take to help reduce overall parasite burdens in dogs and cats while also reducing the likelihood of the transmission of zoonotic parasites to people (diseases that normally exist in animals but can infect humans, like roundworms):
• washing hands thoroughly with soap and water, particularly children’s hands, after outdoor activities, handling pets, pet feces disposal and before meals
• wearing gloves while gardening
• promptly removing and properly disposing of pet feces
• limiting pet defecation areas
• reducing pet interaction with stray and wild animals
• covering sandboxes when not in use
When puppies and kittens are first brought home they should be dewormed for a minimum of three treatments. For them, exposure can actually occur before they are born – many of our pediatric patients actually contract worms while still inside their mother! This is the reason why we recommend deworming with each pediatric visit.
The most common early signs of intestinal parasites in puppies or kittens are poor growth, dull hair coat, lack of energy, diarrhea, flatulence and anemia. Heavily infested young animals will become dehydrated and show symptoms like acute vomiting – warning signs that they may become obstructed due to a heavy parasite burden. Depending on the type of parasite, worms may be seen either in their stool, vomit, or on the hair around the anus.
My hope is that the next time you see some yucky poop uncovered from beneath the melting snow you remember that it isn’t just the gross factor – there are serious health consequences for your household and deworming is a major component in keeping your pets, and family, safe. Please contact us at Westway Animal Clinic should you have any questions or concerns about your pets’ health.