A Puppy Parasite Primer
I’ve actually been cruising the National Hurricane Center website, looking for tropical storms that might stop by and give us a little rain. It’s pretty crazy out there.
I don’t think its weather related, but I’ve been seeing a lot of positive fecal parasite exams lately. Granted, our subtropical Texas climate provides ample breeding opportunities for all manner of pesky parasites.
Today I figured I’d touch a little on the fecal parasites, the ones found in poop. FYI, heartworms are NOT fecal parasites. I see a lot of confusion on this issue, heartworms are found in a blood test, not a poop test.
Puppies tend to be loaded with little wormy passengers. Generally they get them from their moms, either through the milk or the placenta. The other source of infection is the environment they grow up in.
The most common fecal parasites I encounter in puppies are:
- Hookworms: Nasty little blood suckers. With enough hookworms, pups can become anemic and die. They get them from their moms through the milk. They are also contagious to humans; they are a big problem in humans world-wide. The worms hatch in the soil and the baby larvae penetrate the soles of human feet, and, incidentally, their buttocks at the beach — this is where the "no dogs allowed at the beach" rules come from — causing icky linear and swirly sores (cutaneous larval migrans).
- Roundworms: This is the classic "worm." When you see them in the stool, they look like pieces of spaghetti. They are good sized worms. Pups get them through the placenta from mom (thanks, mom!). They take up a bunch of space in the intestine, give the pups that "pot bellied" look, and make them kind of unthrifty when present in large numbers. This one spreads to humans, too, and is more sinister than the hooks. Humans have to ingest these worms' eggs, hence kids tend to get them because they are less picky about washing their hands and sticking their hands in their mouth. The worms hatch and migrate to places like eyeballs, where they look like cancer and require the kid to lose his eye (visceral larval migrans).
- Coccidia: These are microscopic protozoa; kind of like a cross between a bacteria and a worm. Generally pups pick them up from the environment. They hang out in the small intestine and can cause varying severities of diarrhea. Little pups with lots of coccidia can get pretty sick. Generally, they don’t spread to humans.
- Giardia: This is a flagellated protozoa. That means it’s got a little tail to help it get around. They actually are kind of cute, as far as parasites go. Kind of like those old-school kites with the big eyes. They cause diarrhea, and some strains can infect humans (causing diarrhea in them, too).
There are lots of other parasites out there just waiting to set up residence in our pets, but this list comprises the ones I see most commonly in puppies.
They are all treatable, though Giardia tends to be harder than the other ones to get rid of, as it can become a natural inhabitant of the GI tract in some dogs, never making them sick.
Your puppy needs to have a stool test performed by your vet — preferably by centrifugation technique on at least a half teaspoon chunk of poo — as soon as possible after you get him. This will keep your puppy healthy, and your family safe.
Dr. Vivian Cardoso-Carroll