Intestinal Worms and Fleas: Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases in Kitchener

By April 21, 2021 Moose Tracks

In and around Kitchener-Waterloo, ticks and heartworms aren’t the only parasites we need to protect our pets against. Roundworms, hookworms, and fleas can also cause trouble for cats and dogs, and a tiny tapeworm is putting both pets and their owners at risk for a nasty infection.

Troubling Tapeworms

Quite small compared to other tapeworms, Echinococcus multilocularis doesn’t get longer than 1 centimetre (other tapeworms that infect pets can grow up to 70 centimetres in length). E. multilocularis infects the intestinal tract of wild canids, like foxes and coyotes, but this parasite can infect domestic dogs (and occasionally cats) as well.

Pets who eat rodents or feces are at risk for E. multilocularis infection, but these intestinal tapeworms don’t tend to cause symptoms in dogs or cats. The real concern is the tapeworm eggs that are expelled from infected wild animals or pets. When people accidentally ingest these eggs from contaminated soil or feces, they can develop an infection called “alveolar echinococcosis” or AE. This infection causes tumour-like cysts to form in the liver and lungs. Dogs can get AE too, but canine infection is rare.

Fortunately, AE remains rare in people as well. However, it can cause severe disease, making tapeworm prevention in pets essential.

Hunters and young children are at particularly high risk for exposure to this tapeworm’s eggs. But considering the numbers of coyotes and foxes that have started roaming around even urban areas in southern Ontario, more people may also have a chance of being infected.

Most people won’t show any signs of AE infection until 5 to 15 years later. At that point, the cysts are often extremely difficult to treat, requiring surgery and possibly chemotherapy. AE can be fatal.

Worrisome Worms

Roundworms and hookworms are another threat to dogs and cats in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. These worms live in the intestines of pets and can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, unexplained weight loss, and changes in appetite, especially in young pets and those with a large number of worms.

Infected puppies and kittens may also fail to grow properly or appear potbellied, and pets with hookworms can even end up with anemia, a potentially life-threatening decrease in red blood cells.

However, many adult cats and dogs with intestinal parasite infections don’t show any signs of illness.

“Scooting” across the floor can be a sign of parasitic infection, but more often it’s related to a different health problem, such as skin inflammation or an anal gland issue.

Pets can become infected by these intestinal worms in several ways, including through their mother’s milk, by ingesting infective eggs or larvae (depending on the worm), or even directly through their feet or skin (in the case of hookworms). Puppies can also be born with roundworms if their mother was infected, and pets who consume mice or other small animals are at risk as well.

Infuriating Fleas

The most common external parasite of cats and dogs, fleas can multiply quickly once they find a pet to feast on. These blood-sucking creatures are capable of laying up to 50 eggs a day, so it doesn’t take long to get an infestation in your home.

Getting rid of a flea infestation can be extremely difficult. It takes time to break the flea life cycle and find and get rid of all of the hidden flea stages around a home.

Adult fleas are only the tip of the infestation problem. Eggs, larvae, and pupae (the cocoon stage) tend to stay hidden in carpets, furniture, and cracks in the floor. Insecticides don’t kill fleas in cocoons, and several rounds of treatment are almost always needed to destroy all the fleas.

Besides infestations, fleas can cause life-threatening anemia, especially in kittens and puppies. Fleas are also responsible for flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) in pets. Even if you can’t see fleas, FAD can make pets miserable, causing itchy skin, hair loss, and skin inflammation.

It only takes a few flea bites to cause FAD in some dogs and cats.

What Do These Parasites Have in Common?

All of these parasites are considered zoonotic or can cause zoonotic disease, which means disease or infection that can be spread from pets to people, either directly or indirectly.

Keep These Parasites Away!

Being proactive is the best way to help keep your pet and your entire family safe from these nasty parasites. That’s why at Westmount Animal Hospital, we recommend routine monthly deworming to prevent E. multilocularis, roundworm, and hookworm infections, as well as flea control to prevent fleas and flea infestations.

Call us to make sure your pet’s up-to-date on necessary parasite preventives or to get a refill on your pet’s medications. We’re currently offering curbside pickup and online delivery.

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