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With spring also comes round worm season for pets

April 17th, 2003, 07:29 AM
For those who take their pets outside at this time of year, there are concerns about parasite transmission. As the snow melts, and the winter's load of droppings emerges with the mud, our pets can encounter very concentrated masses of round worm eggs left behind by irresponsible owners. We nickname this mess "Pooh-soup."

There are many different types of parasites we call worms. Many, thankfully, are less evident in Canada than in more temperate climates. But the common round worm is a problem, particularly in many young dogs. Pups can pick up this parasite across the placenta from the mom before they are even born. If these dogs are not properly dewormed, they can arrive at your house accompanied by a host of unwanted guests.

(Caution, please don't read this next line over supper!) Round worms are long white worms which can look like a mass of spaghetti when they are passed in the stool. There are different types of round worms in the dog and cat, but they are all essentially passed along the same way. Most pets pick up the parasite by ingesting the worm eggs through the mouth. The eggs hatch in the gut, and grow to become a new crop of adults which pass eggs into the stool, and the cycle begins anew.

The problem with worms for the pet is that the parasites can absorb nutrition meant for the animal. Some of the symptoms include weight loss, poor hair coat, diarrhea and a potty abdomen. In a severely affected animal, the pet becomes a "poor doer", and the above symptoms may be combined with chronic diseases, or poor healing.

There is a bigger concern to people however. The normal cycle of egg to adult to egg again, is interrupted in the human. We are not considered "natural hosts" to the worm. Larval stages can migrate elsewhere in the body other than the gut.

Children seem to be most affected, often playing in sand boxes into which animals have defected. As the little hands go into their mouths, the round worm infection begins. Migrating larva can, unfortunately, find their way into the child's eye and cause blindness, or encyst in other areas of the body.

There are new recommendations regarding deworming from the Center of Disease Control (CDC), in the United States. Because of the issues surrounding human infection and the high incidence of animals that have roundworm, the CDC recommends deworming puppies and kittens every two weeks from birth to 12 weeks, then once a month from 12 weeks to 6 months of age, and adult animals four times a year. The recommendation suggests that this frequency is continued despite negative fecal examination tests.

Fecal examinations at your veterinarian are still wise, however, to rule out the possibility of other types of worms. Even indoor cats that have not had a regular deworming program should go through an initial deworming program of up to a year, and then if there is no outside exposure no further deworming is necessary.

Treatment is relatively straightforward. There are many types of safe and efficacious dewormers available through your veterinarian. Some of the heartworm preventative tablets are labeled to prevent roundworms as well. It is important to note that these recommendations are new, and many puppies and kittens may not have been dewormed to this frequency.

Ask your veterinarian about routine fecal examinations and worming for everyone's protection.