Pets, Parasites & People

Boy and dog hugging

Pets enrich our lives in so many different ways that sometimes we may forget that there are steps we need to take to keep our pets and family safe and healthy. Some worms that infect your pet can infect your family as well. These infections are called "zoonoses". Hookworms and roundworms are the most common intestinal parasite to infect both people and pets.

Your pet can become infected at any age but is most susceptible when young. In fact, some worms are passed to your pet while still in the uterus or through the mother's milk. However, your pet may or may not show signs once he or she is infected, so you won't automatically know that there is a problem.

Pets pass parasites to people through their feces. Since pets frequently defecate in a wide area over your yard, in parks or even in playgrounds it is easier than you think for people to come into contact with larvae. Children by nature are more likely to be exposed because they play outside more often and are less likely to worry about hygiene. In addition, parasite larvae are microscopic and very hardy. They can survive long after any sign of feces is gone.

Even though people may not develop an intestinal form of a parasite they can still be harmed by the worms. Once ingested, parasites can become "lost" and cause a condition called "Visceral Larval Migrans". This occurs when a worm gets "confused" because it is not in its natural host. It may then wander through the body and end up in the eyes, nerves or other tissues. Once there, it can cause permanent damage including blindness. Hookworm larvae can gain access to humans through the skin causing local discomfort and inflammation. Unfortunately, they also occasionally migrate deeper and harm organs within the body as well.

Does all this mean that you should get rid of your pets? Of course not! Simple precautions such as deworming your pet at an early age and keeping your pet on a regular preventative program that treats and controls parasites will help prevent future problems. Keep lawns and play areas free from pet waste, cover sandboxes or even train your pet to defecate in a special area of your property. When you're out in the community, obey leash laws and clean up after your pet. Don't let them run free in areas such as playgrounds or other places children frequent. If you still have questions or concerns remember that you can always ask your veterinarian for advice.