Cats and dogs are very commonly afflicted by intestinal parasites, and many of the most common of these are parasitic worms. For anyone who owns a pet cat or dog, chances are good that they will have to deal with worms at some point, especially when adopting a new kitten or puppy, or an animal from a shelter. We have the information you need to know about some of the most common worms that infest cats and dogs.
WHAT ARE HOOKWORMS?
A hookworm is a parasite that makes its home in the small intestine of its host, be it a cat, dog or human. Hookworms feed on the blood of their hosts, which can lead to anemia. Other symptoms may include bloody diarrhea, weight loss and weakness. Hookworms usually are contracted through ingestion or through the skin, most commonly via the feet when a pet treads on contaminated ground. Kittens and puppies commonly ingest hookworms via milk from their mothers. A hookworm infestation can be fatal, especially for small kittens and puppies, so it must be treated quickly once detected. Hookworms are more common in dogs than in cats.
HOW ARE HOOKWORMS TREATED?
Typically, a deworming medication is prescribed to combat hookworms, and in many cases, that’s enough to cure the infestation. This treatment is safe and relatively inexpensive. Sometimes supplements will be prescribed to replace iron and other nutrients lost. In rare cases, hospitalization may be required, depending on how anemic the animal is. Always consult your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment. There is no inoculation against hookworms, so cleanliness and vigilance are your primary weapons as far as prevention is concerned.
WHAT ARE ROUNDWORMS?
Like hookworms, roundworms are parasites that live in the intestines of their hosts. Also, like hookworms, roundworms harm your pet by depriving it of nutrients. One key difference between roundworms and hookworms is that roundworms are much larger, which can lead to additional complications. A heavy infestation of roundworms can even cause intestinal blockage. Roundworms can lay 100,000 eggs in one day. Roundworms typically do not cause symptoms, but their presence may be evident in the host's stool. In young puppies or kittens, mild vomiting or diarrhea may result. Roundworms are the most common internal parasites in cats.
HOW ARE ROUNDWORMS TREATED?
Fortunately, treating a roundworm infestation in your cat or dog is safe, simple and relatively inexpensive. Many available deworming medications not only kill existing roundworms in your pet, but help prevent further or recurring roundworm infestations. In severe cases, however, surgery may be required. As always, consult your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment rather than self-diagnosing or resorting to over-the-counter medicines.
WHAT ARE HEARTWORMS?
Heartworms are parasitic worms that may reside, as their name implies, inside their host’s heart, but much more commonly are found in the host’s lungs. The heartworm's life cycle and infestation is longer and more complicated than other common worms. Young heartworms incubate and grow inside mosquito hosts, and are transmitted to a new host when the mosquito bites a human, a cat or — in most cases — a dog. The heartworms spend several months maturing inside the body of their hosts, during which time the host typically is asymptomatic. Early symptoms can include coughing and fatigue, and may progress to extreme weight loss, coughing blood and congestive heart failure.
HOW ARE HEARTWORMS TREATED?
Heartworm infestation in dogs is treatable, although the treatment process is relatively complicated and expensive, and typically involves hospitalization and a recovery period. Sadly, there is no approved heartworm treatment for cats, as the treatment typically used for dogs is far more damaging and dangerous for cats. Fortunately, cats are naturally much more resistant to heartworms in the first place, and a cat's system may likely fight off heartworms on its own. Because heartworm treatment is difficult or impossible, prevention is crucial. Consult your vet about options for medicine to prevent heartworm infestations.
WHAT ARE TAPEWORMS?
Tapeworms are parasites that invade the small intestine and, in basic terms, survive by eating what your pet eats, depriving your pet of nutrients. Unlike roundworms, which live freely in the intestine, tapeworms attach themselves to a host’s intestinal walls. Also unlike roundworms, tapeworms cannot infest an animal that eats tapeworm eggs. Instead, the animal ingests the tapeworm’s primary or intermediate host, usually an adult flea. Tapeworms do not usually lead to serious health problems, but can cause irritation — most commonly anal itching — and may affect a host's nutrition to some degree. Tapeworms are more dangerous in growing and developing kittens and puppies.
HOW ARE TAPEWORMS TREATED?
Treatment for tapeworms in your pet is simple, fast and relatively inexpensive. Your vet will likely give your cat or dog an effective dewormer either through an injection or oral medication. Because tapeworms are so frequently passed to cats and dogs through fleas, controlling tapeworms means treating and preventing flea infestations.
WHAT IS RINGWORM?
“Ringworm” is a misnomer for this affliction. Despite the name, it is not a worm at all, or even a parasite. Rather, ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin. Symptoms may include patchy bald spots and lesions, reddened skin, itchiness and dandruff. Sometimes, pets may carry the ringworm fungus without presenting any symptoms at all.
Next: PawNation's Guide to Ticks
HOW IS RINGWORM TREATED?
Typically, a vet will prescribe or administer a medicated shampoo or a topical antifungal medication. In many cases, a cat or dog with ringworm will need to wear an Elizabethan collar (the cone of shame) to prevent it from ingesting the topical medication. In some cases, an oral medication may also be needed.
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