I have heard that my dog and cat can give worms to my child. Is this true? If so, should I be worried and what can I do to avoid this?
Although a human is not the normal host for a dog or cat intestinal worm, transmission can and does occur. In fact, roughly 3-6 million people were infected with roundworms last year. Exposure is greatest for those who come in contact with pets and their feces, as well as fecal contaminated soil. The risk of severe disease is highest for children, elderly, and people with a weak, underdeveloped or compromised immune system. When infected, the parasites move out of the intestinal tract and into surrounding tissues. In some instances the larva migrate into important structures such as an eye, or the central nervous system (spinal cord or brain).
The easiest way to prevent transmission is to practice good hygiene and have your pet regularly dewormed and/or fecal tested. Heartworm prevention medications that are administered monthly also serve to prevent your pet from acquiring intestinal worm infections. Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that your pet is worm-free. This is due to the fact that many parasites have cyst forms that are resistant to dewormers and are not detected in the stools. These encysted parasites can become active later on, especially during pregnancy, and commonly pass the infection on to newborn puppies or kittens. This is part of the reason so many puppies and kittens become infected with worms (especially roundworms). Ultimately, it is best to assume that there is always a risk of infection and wash your hands and you child’s hands anytime a pet has been handled. This is especially important during a mealtime, when hands are likely to come in contact with mouths. Remember, kissing a pet is also not a good idea, especially on and around the pet’s face (you can only guess where your pet’s mouth has recently been). Finally, keep the yard and/or litter box and other highly frequented pet areas regularly cleaned and sanitized because these are usually the areas that have fecal contamination and potentially parasite eggs.
For more information on transmissible parasites, please contact your local veterinarian and visit the Companion Animal Parasite Council @ www.capcvet.org, and the Center For Disease Control @ www.cdc.gov.
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Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals. Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228. More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.
Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.