In our last column, we learned how heartworm disease in dogs is on the rise. We learned that tick-borne diseases are affecting more and more people than ever before. We also know that fleas can carry diseases and that they are a nuisance every year. The old adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is a reality that also applies to our pets when it comes to parasites.
But what about the parasites that are already here? What is the impact on our heath, the health of our children, and our pet's health? How can we mitigate the potential suffering caused by these opportunistic beasts?
How Do Parasites End Up in Public Places?
Let's talk about how parasites, especially helminths or worms, end up in parks and playgrounds.
Go to any park in the warmer months, and you are likely to find a family enjoying the outdoors with a picnic lunch, taking a walk, or camping. Many times, the family dog is not left behind, but they are a welcomed addition to this scene.
During the time the pet is in the park, nature will call, and the dog will make a deposit on the ground. If Buddy has not been properly dewormed, he will be contaminating the area with worm eggs which will soon become infective to other pets and people. The park probably has a rule about picking up what Buddy left behind, but we know that this rule is not always followed. Dog parks and areas where children play close to the ground, like a sandbox, are places where it has been shown to be particularly contaminated with worm eggs.
How Can Parasites Affect Humans?
The risk to humans can be significant. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that approximately 10,000 children become infected with the dog roundworm, Toxacara canis, each year. Hookworm larvae are able to penetrate unbroken human skin. We know that these intestinal parasites are common because studies show that almost 50% of dogs in animal shelters have hookworms and other worms are also common. Children can become infected with a tapeworm after accidentally ingesting a flea carrying a tapeworm larva. Here in our clinic, it’s common for us to see tapeworms as well as all the other worms we've mentioned.
What Can I Do to Prevent a Parasitic Infection?
Although the risks are out there, we can reduce the prevalence of these infections and live parasite-free lives with our beloved pets by following some simple behaviors. When a new puppy or kitten is adopted into the family, set an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Besides the physical exam and vaccines, the vet will check for and get rid of all parasites. Even if the breeder or shelter says that they have already dewormed the pet, that does not mean the pet is parasite-free. A professional evaluation is a must to ensure that you and your new friend get off to a healthy start. The vet will establish a parasite prevention program that is effective and easy to follow and based on your pet's lifestyle.
As we limit canine intestinal parasites and the related potential health issues in people, we are protecting the human-animal bond by ensuring that we and our pets enjoy a close, healthy relationship.
Dr. Harley Robinson, DVM, is our Chief of Staff, and he is a graduate of Purdue University.