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Zoonotic Diseases

Hookworms and roundworms are intestinal parasites shed in the feces of infected dogs and cats. These are very common in dogs and cats and are significant in that they are both considered zoonotic parasites. Zoonotic disease is any disease that can be transmitted form animal to human. In this world where we are ever choosing to share our space with animals, knowledge and awareness of zoonotic diseases can allow us to prevent infection and assess individual risks. Puppies can be born with roundworms and can become infected from nursing from an infected mother or ingesting contaminated feces. Cats become infected from hunting and ingesting a carrier animal such as a mouse or eating something contaminated with infected feces. Hookworm larvae, or immature worms, are shed in the environment by the individual dog or cat infected. The larvae are then ingested in contaminated feces or by ingesting a carrier animal such as a mouse. The larvae can even penetrate directly into the skin of the pet to infect them. Humans become infected be ingesting items contaminated with pet feces. This is of greatest concern for young children playing on the ground and in sandboxes. Roundworm ingestion can lead to a body-wide migration which can affect the internal organs of the person or lead to blindness as the parasite migrates through the eye. Humans become infected with hookworms by ingesting larvae-contaminated feces or in some cases by walking barefoot in a yard contaminated by infected larvae. These immature worms penetrate the skin and lead to a rash in the skin.

Precautions can be taken to lower the risk of human exposure to these zoonotic parasites. Be sure that all puppies be promptly examined by a veterinarian. Regular microscopic examinations of the feces at the veterinarian and closely adhering to a de-worming schedule provided by the veterinarian will decrease worm eggs shed by the pet. Twice-yearly fecal examinations, physical examinations and monthly heartworm prevention for all adult dogs and cats is also imperative. Heartworm preventions treat for hookworms and roundworms as well as prevent heartworms every single month. Picking up feces out of the environment daily and properly disposing of it is also important for decreasing exposure risk for humans and dogs and cats. Once roundworm eggs contaminate the ground, they are very difficult if not impossible to remove. Frequent hand washing of young children after playing with the pets as well as after playing in sand boxes or dirt can be helpful as well.

- Dr. LaRoche

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