Last month I discussed with you many of the diseases that we vaccinate our pets against and how they can or cannot affect our children. This is the link to the first article just in case you missed it, because I feel this is very important subject for anyone who has kids and pets in the same household.
In this article, I want to continue with this important topic, and discuss other diseases that our beloved furry family members can contract, such as intestinal worms and parasites, and the effects that these can have on your family. I once again feel it is important to remind that I am NOT a licensed veterinarian, so I am writing this post based solely on information I have been able to compile to help inform you as best as I can. I have tried to use only the most reliable sources available, and as always, please consults your pet’s veterinarian and your child’s pediatrician for the ‘final word’ on all of this.
So let’s begin by saying that every six months most vets will ask you for a fresh stool sample. As gross and unpleasant as this is to collect, this is very important. There are many things they can test for in a single fecal exam. (Here’s a useful tip….. I use empty pharmacy medicine bottles. I peel off the label and clean the bottle and cap with soap and water to remove any medicine remnants, and then store them in a drawer until I need to collect samples for the vet. The cap is air-tight, so it won’t smell and will stay ‘fresh’ until you drop it off. The caps are also child-proof… to keep away from curious hands. I write my dogs name, my name, the date of collection, and my phone number on it and affix it to the bottle with tape. This way the sample will not get mixed up with any others accidentally.)
So, what are they looking for in that lovely pile of poo you brought them? I’ll break down some of the things the vet will be looking for:
- What is it? Giardia is a common, microscopic (intestinal) parasite that commonly affects humans, dogs, and cats.
- Signs your pet may have it: Often times in cats and dogs you will see signs such as distended stomachs (bloating) and/or watery diarrhea that may have some drops of blood in it or even a jelly-mucus type of film on it. Sometimes you may see some vomiting or loss of appetite, and other times they may show no symptoms at all! This is why a regular fecal exam is very important.
- Can Your Child Catch it? The risk of your family members contracting Giardia is actually pretty small, as the strain that animals get is typically different than the strain that humans get. However, even though the risks are small, there are still risks. You can get this intestinal parasite by coming into direct contact with the animal’s feces. If your dog eliminates on the grass outside, in the same area your child plays, they can be at risk.
- How Dangerous Is This For your Child: The risks are small. Since many of the signs do not seem to show up for weeks after the initial contact of infected poop, (if they show any signs at all) and seem to mostly resemble those of a stomach virus, most people seem to chalk up the symptoms to ‘something they ate that did not agree with them.
- How Can I Avoid This? Your best defense is prevention. I would highly suggest choosing a specific area and teaching your pet to only eliminate there (such as a dog run or gated area). This makes your daily clean-up chore much easier, and keeps your kids and their friends safer. Make sure you clean up after them pretty regularly, and wear gloves when gardening and cleaning up. Also, dump out any buckets and pails that have filled with water after rain. This becomes a breeding ground, especially over the summer when your dog is running around outside and becomes hot and thirsty.
To read more in-depth information on this, you can go to: https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/giardia/
- What is it: It is also an intestinal parasite. The most common causes for these parasites are being in close proximity to other infected animals and also severe stress seems to bring it to the surface and cause problems. It is relatively common in dogs…. Especially young puppies.
- Signs Your Pet May Have This: Its early warning signs are usually watery or mucousy stools, lack of appetite, lethargy, foul-smelling gas, and even some bloody stool.. It is relatively easy to treat with medication, and a full recovery is usually easy to obtain as long as it is not left untreated.
- Can Your Child Catch It: According to PetCareRx…. ‘Most coccidia are host-specific. In other words coccidia that can live in dogs cannot usually live anywhere else.’
- How Dangerous Is This To My Child: As of now there are no reported cases of Coccidia jumping from one species to another, so your children should be safe.
- How Can I Avoid This: By regular fecal exams at the vet to make sure your dog is and stays negative, and also by making sure you clean up their poops regularly, preferably immediately. And by regular hand-washing and keeping your pet away from other dogs that may possibly be infected.
INTERNAL PARASITES SUCH AS WORMS: I will focus first on the ones that CAN be transferred to people, making them (in my opinion) the most dangerous ones for your family, and then talk about a few other ones.
- What Is It: They are parasites that live in the intestines. The eggs are often found in the ground, soil, and even fertilizer if the feces from an infected animal were used. They are so named due to their shape…. Which often resembles a whip.
- Signs Your Dog Might Have It: Loss of appetite, foul smelling poop, lethargy and anemia (pale gums and a general weakness)
- Can Your Child Catch It: . This parasite CAN cross between humans and animals.
- How Dangerous Is This To My Child: Very. Usually a prescribed treatment of medication for 1 – 3 days is sufficient to clear out this problem, but according to the CDC: People with heavy infections can experience frequent, painful passage of stool that contains a mixture of mucus, water, and blood. The diarrhea typically has an acrid smell. In children, heavy infection may be associated with growth retardation and impaired cognitive development.
- How Can I Avoid This: Your best defense to avoid this is frequent hand-washing, wearing gloves while gardening, especially if you use fertilizer, and thoroughly washing all fruits and vegetables before consumption. Also, make sure your dog’s elimination area is kept separate from your children’s play area. But also, by using a monthly de-wormer that you can get from your vet, such as Interceptor.
You can read about this in more detail here: https://www.thespruce.com/whipworms-in-dogs-and-cats
- What Is It: According to Lianne McLeod, DVM, Roundworms are intestinal parasites that are common in dogs. There are two species of roundworms that infect dogs, one of which can cause health problems in humans, too. Roundworms are round, up to seven inches long, and white to pale brown in color (they look a little like spaghetti noodles). They hang out in the intestines, soaking up nutrients from the dog’s diet. They complete their life cycle in an animal’s intestines, but they can also move throughout a pet’s body, infecting the throat and lungs
- Signs Your Dog Might Have It: Failure to gain weight, you may see live and/or dead worms in their feces. They may vomit up worms as well. Especially in puppies, they have a pot-bellied appearance (very bloated belly) They often have diarrhea, or be blocked and unable to poop, and often have a very dull looking coat.
- Can Your Child Catch This: The larvae of roundworms can infect people, as well as dogs. This happens when eggs are ingested, and it is most common in children who may not practice the best hygiene, and may pick up eggs on their hands when playing in the yard, for example.
- How Dangerous Is This To My Child: Again, according to the same site listed above, ‘The larvae don’t develop into adult roundworms in people, but the larvae migrating through the tissues can cause inflammation, especially in young children. Most cases are not serious, but in serious cases, organ damage is possible as result of the migrating larvae (e.g., liver, lung, brain), and sometimes the larvae can reach the eyes, leading to visual disturbances and possibly blindness.’
- How Can I Avoid This: Again, the best defense is practicing good hygiene…. Hand washing, keeping the kid’s play area separate from the waste area, using gloves when gardening, thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables if you use manure as fertilizer. But also, by using a monthly dewormer that you can get from your vet, such as HeartGuard Plus, or Interceptor.
- What Are They: Hookworms are small thin worms usually about an inch long. They also tend to live in soil and are transmitted through feces. However, unlike the roundworm, these guys actually attach themselves to the lining of the intestines according to Lianne McLeod, DVM and they feed on the blood and tissues of pups. They can detach themselves from one spot, and move on to another, but leave sores and ulcers behind. Here is the really scary part…. They can also enter through the skin, usually through the paws.
- Signs Your Dog Might Have Them: According to petwave.com They can get diarrhea or constipation, dark, tarry types of stools, loss of appetite, causing loss of weight, poor coat condition, a dry hacking cough, Sores on the paws, especially between the toes (red; infected; presence of pus; caused by the parasites directly penetrating the skin) and sudden unexpected death.
- Can Your Child Catch This: The intestinal form of this disease can be contracted the same way as the others…. Through contaminated animal feces and poor hygiene. There is a strain of this disease that used to be widespread in poor areas of the United States, but on further research I found this strain can only be contracted by direct contact with human feces on the ground (i.e.walking barefoot through a contaminated area).
- How Dangerous Is This To Your Child: Hookworm infections are generally treated for 1-3 days with medication prescribed by your health care provider. The drugs are effective and appear to have few side effects. Iron supplements may be prescribed if you have anemia.
- How Can I Avoid This: By using the monthly preventive you can purchase from your vet, not allowing your child to walk barefoot in any area where there could even possibly be waste, and also following all of the guidelines above regarding good hygiene and washing all fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
Important Note: While I mentioned a few different types of de-wormers and preventative medicines that you can get from your vet’s office, it is important to be aware that not every medicine is right for every dog in every situation. Your vet will consider your dog’s age, breed, the area of the country you reside in (i.e. what parasites are local), etc. in choosing the right medication to prescribe.
Although the following will not transfer between animal and human, I still felt they were worth mentioning, with a quick little note about each one of them, because while they will not hurt your human child, they can still hurt your furry one.
Parasitic worms that do NOT transfer to humans are:
Heartworm can only be transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito. There’s no other way dogs get heartworms. And there’s no way to tell if a mosquito is infected. That’s why prevention is so important. It can only be passed on by mosquitoes. It’s a specific parasite that only affects dogs and cats and ferrets and other mammals. In rare cases, heartworms have infected people, but it does not complete its life cycle.
You can read more about heartworms here: http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/heartworms
Tapeworm infection by a dog is extremely rare, according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. In order for a human to be infected with a tapeworm from a dog, the person must ingest a flea from the infected dog that contains the larvae of the tapeworm.
There are a few other types of worms and parasites out there, so I suggest doing your research. There is so much information available online today from reputable sources such as the CDC, PetWebMD, and a few other sites. I included many links for you to reference…. Remember: forewarned is forearmed!!
I will end this the same way I ended the last article…. By reminding you that most of this is PREVENTABLE and/or treatable!! Following a monthly regimen of the oral (usually chewable) Heartworm tablets as your vet prescribes, and getting routine veterinary visits and fecal exams is just as important as taking your child to the pediatrician, because many of these diseases cannot be detected without a microscope.
As I mentioned in my last article, I began researching some of this stuff in order to answer some questions for my clients, but I have learned so much myself, I thought it was important to share this information with all of you, who have children that could be directly affected as well! So I hope you got some valuable information, and I am also going to end this by again adding the link to the A-Z list of diseases that can cross between animals and humans.
We all strive to make our homes a happy one…. let’s do all we can to make our homes a safe and healthy one too!!!