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Don’t worm out of deworming your pets

By Tram Le, DVM
Burien Veterinary Hospital


To deworm or not to deworm

It amazes me how many people say, "my pet doesn't have worms, I don't see anything," or "we live in the Northwest, we don't have that problem here." So here are some facts:

Adult roundworms, hookworms, or whipworms usually stay in the host unless there is an overpopulation. Their eggs are microscopic. Parasites will survive in most climates.

In King County for 2011 and part of 2012 from only one of the three laboratories in the area, 1 out of 33 fecal test was positive for hookworms, 1 out of 53 for roundworms, and 1 out of 50 for whipworms. It is estimated that this represents only 30% of our pets since many are not seen by a veterinarian or even tested.

Unless you are equipped with a microscope, fecal floatation solution, and a centrifuge what you think is negative may not be. On top of that, these little creepy crawly's eggs don't shed all the time. So, for a true negative test a series of three fecal tests are necessary.

"But they don't cause any problems." Wrong again. Not only do the worms sap the nutrients and cause internal damage, but also many are zoonotic (a disease that may be transmitted to man). The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is seeing an increase in the number of human health case problems due to exposure from dog, cat, and wildlife parasites. Many worm eggs can live in our environment for over 2 years, and freezing and most pesticides do not kill the eggs. In humans since we are not the natural host these worms can cause:

VLM (Visceral Larval Migrans)- the worm travels through various organs in the body, causing damage and inflammation.
OLM (Ocular Larval Migrans)- the worm migrates into the eye, damaging the retina and causing blindness.
CLM (Cutaneous Larval Migrans)- the worm migrates through the skin.
NLM (Neural Larval Migrans)- the worm migrates into the brain, causing severe damage i.e. mental illness, blindness, and or death.

Although NLM is usually caused by the raccoon roundworm, other mammals can be carriers of these worms and the migration may not occur for days to months.

The seroprevalence in people over age six is approximately 14 out of 100 for Toxocara species infection (roundworms). The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is seeing an increase in the number of human health case problems due to exposure from dog, cat, and wildlife parasites. Due to this rise, they had formed a committee called Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) just to help control internal and external parasites in U.S. dogs and cats.

Who is at risk? Children, immunocompromised individuals, exposed workforce, and people walking barefoot.

How to decrease risk? Limit or prevent contact between children and contaminated areas. Cover sandboxes when not in use. Teach children to recognize and avoid feces and emphasize good personal hygiene. Enforce fecal cleanup laws for dogs and leash laws. Be a responsible pet owner. Reduce the number of stray dog and cats. Deworm pets monthly, quarterly, or at least biannually, and fecal parasite test your pets 2-4 times a year.

Pets bring joy, companionship, and comfort to our lives and are more closely associated with humans today. With a few visits a year to your veterinarian you can keep you and your pet healthier.

(Truth about Cats & Dogs is a monthly column written by local veterinarians. Participating hospitals are Marine View Veterinary Hospital in Des Moines, Des Moines Veterinary Hospital and Burien Veterinary Hospital.)

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