Our pets can pick up “hitchhikers” known as zoonotic parasites, which can be transmitted from pets to people. Some pets are born with intestinal worms (transmitted from their mother while in utero or through milk). Intestinal parasites can affect your adult cat or dog, who can pick them up in unsanitary outdoor areas or from wildlife.
Until your pet is dewormed for parasites, your family can be at risk of zoonotic parasitic infections. However, monthly heartworm preventives can protect your pet from most intestinal parasites because heartworm prevention medication includes parasite preventives.
Here are four common zoonotic parasites:
- Toxoplasma — Toxoplasma is an intestinal parasite found in cats that can spread through contaminated soil by eating meat from an animal who lived on contaminated soil or from contact with infective feces in a litter box. People also can get toxoplasmosis from petting their cat and then eating without handwashing. A person infected with the toxoplasma parasite may experience sore muscles and flu-like symptoms, and a pregnant woman’s baby can suffer brain damage.
- Roundworms — Roundworms live in the intestines of cats, dogs, and many wildlife species. Their hardy eggs can survive sunlight and freezing temperatures for years in the soil, while they wait to infect people or animals. When a person ingests roundworm eggs, by handling their pet or contaminated soil, without immediately washing their hands, the eggs hatch in their intestines, burrow through the body and create cysts.
- Tapeworms — Tapeworms must pass through fleas to continue their life cycle. They can infect people who touch their pet who has fleas and then eat without washing their hands. Small children, who put most things in their mouths, are at highest risk for developing a tapeworm infection.
- Hookworms — Hookworms live in dogs’ and cats’ intestines and can be transmitted when people contact fecal-contaminated soil. The larvae burrow under the skin, causing itching and infection, and can penetrate the eyes if a person rubs them with their infected hand.
Contact us if you have any questions or concerns about protecting your pet—and yourself!—from zoonotic parasites.