At some point, your pet will likely have loose stool because of intestinal parasites. You may see the actual wiggling worms, if your furry pal has a roundworm or tapeworm infection. Many puppies and kittens come with a hidden parasite load that requires deworming treatment. Sometimes several treatments—along with appropriate heartworm and intestinal parasite prevention—are necessary, to ensure all life stages of the intestinal parasite are eliminated. 

Proper identification is key to eliminating intestinal parasite infestations, since one deworming product does not kill all parasites. Once a parasite is identified, a LaGrange Veterinary Hospital veterinarian can prescribe the appropriate dewormer. Let’s take a closer look at these pesky parasites, and learn how to best protect your pet. 

What are the signs of intestinal parasites in pets?

Since intestinal parasites reside in the pet’s intestinal tract, they are known to cause diarrhea and other stool-related issues. They can also affect your pet’s ability to thrive, as they leach vital nutrients from your furry pal. If your pet has intestinal parasites, you may notice some of these signs:

  • Loose stool, or diarrhea
  • Dark, tarry stool
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Worm segments around the anus
  • Worms in the vomit or feces
  • Dull hair coat
  • Failure to thrive or grow
  • Loss of condition or weight

To ensure your pet’s parasite preventive is effective, and that your furry pal has not picked up any unusual intestinal parasites, we recommend that you check a stool sample regularly, whether or not you notice any of the above issues.

How are intestinal parasites diagnosed in pets?

To make a diagnosis, we perform a fecal exam, which requires a small amount of fresh stool that we mix with a sugar solution, and spin at high speed in our centrifuge. The parasite eggs rise to the top of the solution, and settle onto the coverslip, and we then place the entire slide onto the microscope. During our microscopic exam, we carefully search for any evidence of intestinal parasite eggs, bacterial overgrowth, or other abnormalities, such as blood, that will help us reach a diagnosis. 

Although we can identify some adult worms that are visible in a pet’s stool sample, the easiest and most accurate method of egg identification is by centrifugation. However, false negatives are possible, since parasites do not continuously shed eggs, and without eggs, we cannot detect the presence of an adult worm. Additionally, some parasites, such as tapeworms, are more difficult to spot on a fecal exam, but can be identified by tapeworm segments around your pet’s hind end. 

If you notice any signs of intestinal parasites in your pet, such as loose or bloody stool, or unexplained weight loss, a fresh fecal sample can help determine if worms are to blame. Ensure you keep the sample refrigerated until you head to LaGrange Veterinary Hospital, since parasite eggs will hatch if the sample becomes too warm at room temperature, and be useless for identification purposes. 

What intestinal parasites are common in pets?

Pets can be infected by many different intestinal parasites, making proper identification key for effective treatment. Some of the most common include:

  • Roundworms — Roundworms are one of the most commonly seen intestinal parasites, particularly in puppies and kittens. Occasionally seen in stool, these worms are long, white parasites that look like a spaghetti noodle. Pets with heavy infections may vomit up roundworms, making diagnosis easy.
  • Tapeworms — Tapeworms can infect your pet through ingestion of an infected flea or small mammal. Your indoor kitty may never venture outdoors, but can still suffer from a tapeworm infection if you have a flea problem inside your home. Quality flea prevention, and keeping your pet from consuming rodents and other small animals, are crucial to prevent tapeworms, which appear as grains of rice in your pet’s stool, or around their hind end.
  • Hookworms — Hookworms thrive in warm, moist soil, and can infect pets through larval ingestion from the soil, or their mother’s milk. These parasites can also penetrate the skin, eventually traveling to the small intestine, where they mature, and can cause anemia in young pets because of their feeding habits. Fortunately, several hookworm-deworming medications are available.
  • Whipworms — In the United States, whipworms affect dogs more often than cats, who rarely suffer from this intestinal parasite in our area. However, whipworm eggs can survive in the environment for years, unless they dry out, so prompt removal and proper disposal of feces is crucial for controlling a whipworm infestation.

How can I protect my pet from intestinal parasites?

Numerous methods will keep your furry pal safe from intestinal parasites, including:

  • Administering heartworm prevention on schedule — Most heartworm preventives also have intestinal-parasite deworming properties that will purge your pet’s system of parasites each month.
  • Picking up after your pet — By practicing good hygiene, and picking up after your furry pal when outdoors, or in public places, you can ensure your pet does not become reinfected with parasites that hatch out in neglected stool.
  • Avoiding areas littered with waste — For example, if you know a park or hiking trail near your home tends to be less than sanitary, walk your pet in a different area, and keep them away from any “deposits.”

If you need help choosing the best parasite prevention product for your four-legged friend, give us a call to discuss your options. Once you’ve chosen the product that will work best for your pet, you can order through our online pharmacy, and have your furry pal’s preventive shipped straight to your door.