As weather warms and families head outdoors, remember that sandboxes, gardens and lawn areas may be home to potentially dangerous parasites. The tiny organisms are introduced to areas where pets go to the bathroom.
These parasites are zoonotic, which means they can be transmitted from pets to people and can penetrate the skin if someone walks barefoot through sand or soil that contains parasites. Protect yourself and your family from these parasites, which can cause serious health problems, such as blindness in children. Talk with your veterinary professional today to learn how.
An easy way to protect family members from parasites is to clean-up pet waste from outside areas, including your lawn. Before bringing a new pet home, schedule a thorough exam so that your veterinarian can recommend the right vaccines and provide a de-worming service.
The following parasites pose risks to pets and people: roundworm, hookworm, tapeworm, ringworm, whipworm, Toxoplasmosis, Giardia, and mange infections. To learn more, visit the Companion Animal Parasite Council online.
“Roundworm (Toxocara) infection is the sixth most common reported disease in people in the United States,” said Elizabeth S. Maimon, DVM, MPH, of Hills and Dales Veterinary Clinic, an AAHA-accredited practice in Dayton, Ohio.
“Hookworm infections represent a reported 4,000 or more cases annually. We know that hookworms and roundworms may live for years in soil,” she added, referring to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Trust the Experts
Maimon warns pet owners that the best medicine comes from veterinarians.
“The de-worming process can take at least three weeks or more to be effective,” she said. “Clients are mistaken when they believe over-the-counter de-worming medication is efficacious. Without a proper fecal [poop] evaluation, one is hard pressed to know what specific intestinal parasites the pet has and [prescribe] the right de-worming agent. Sadly, many intestinal parasite infections go undetected, because they are not visible to the naked eye.”
Jeff Bender, DVM, MS, DACVPM, suggests de-worming for puppies and kittens as early as three weeks of age. “Pets should get routine checks for internal and external parasites,” said Bender, a professor of veterinary public health at the University of Minnesota. “[Exams are] one of the most important public health measures,” Bender explained. “Early evaluation is essential.”
In addition to vaccinations and check-ups, Bender stressed the importance of limiting contact between pets and wildlife, including raccoons and coyotes, to prevent the spread of disease to domestic pets.
Prevention of infection is the best way to keep family members safe, Maimon said. “Raccoons can leave behind Baylisascarids, a dangerous member of the roundworm family that people can inhale, causing dermal [skin] infection and neurological disease.”
Tips to Prevent the Spread of Parasites between Pets and People
- Take pets to your veterinarian regularly to check for internal and external parasites
- Over-the-counter de-wormers may not work. Veterinarians should do de-worming
- Avoid interaction between pets and wildlife
- Do not leave pet food outside; it may attract wildlife
- Pick up after pets; obey “No Pet” signs for beaches and playgrounds
- Cover your child’s sandbox when not in use, and avoid public playground sandboxes
- Do not let children touch pet litter boxes
- When changing litter, wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterward
- Pregnant women should wear gloves and masks when gardening and avoid litter boxes
- Use disposable liners, and change litter daily
- Remove pet droppings from your yard daily
- Do not feed pets undercooked or raw meat
- Control fleas, lice, flies and other insects in your pet’s environment
- When traveling, bring water for your pet, and do not let him/her drink from puddles or standing water
- Wear shoes and socks indoors and outdoors
Don't forget about heartworm prevention while tackling the issue of pet parasites. The American Heartworm Society and the Companion Animal Parasite Council recommend that all pets receive year-round heartworm protection so that pets are protected every month. It is critical that doses not be skipped or intervals between doses be extended because this results in an unprotected time during which animals may be exposed to heartworm larvae. Pets should also have annual heartworm testing by a veterinarian prior to prescribing a heartworm medication.
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 2 Issue 3, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.
Revised and updated Dec. 18, 2012.