The Pet Corner: Intestinal parasites an uncomfortable, but necessary topic

Published 11:11 am Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Intestinal parasites in pets are certainly not a topic of discussion for the dinner table.

However, when it comes to dogs and cats, intestinal parasites are common and important to understand.

Talking about feces, which is required for intestinal parasite testing, isn’t a pleasant topic, but in veterinary medicine, feces is an important and necessary topic for understanding many intestinal conditions — including parasites.

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There are several intestinal parasites that are common in dogs and cats. The most common parasites include round worms, hook worms, whip worms and tape worms.

Other fairly common parasites, but not as common as worms, are Coccidia and Giardia, which are microscopic and not visible with the naked eye.

A common misunderstanding among pet owners about intestinal parasites is the belief if their pet has worms, they will see the parasites in their feces when they go to the bathroom. That is the reason I chose to write about intestinal parasites and feces.

I have heard it for 29 years and thought I was making some difference when I try to educate each and every client about intestinal parasites.

Recently I heard the same old statement from another pet owner. The pet owner said, “Fifi doesn’t have worms because I haven’t seen any in her bowel movement.”

Although it is a good idea to check your dog’s and cat’s bowel movement regularly, it is definitely not the best way to determine if your pet has any intestinal parasites.

The best way to test your pet for worms is to have your veterinarian check your pet’s feces by performing a test called fecal flotation.

The test is performed by mixing some of your pet’s feces with a special solution which causes microscopic intestinal worm eggs to float to the top and stick to a microscope slide.

Then the sample slide is examined under a microscope to check for the presence of any worm eggs. If there are worm eggs present, then it is highly likely your pet has the corresponding worms in their intestines.

Even then, fecal examination may not always be 100 percent accurate.

Many times, the sample of feces may not be enough or the feces are watery and just not enough substance to accurately perform the fecal flotation test. Additionally, not all intestinal worms shed eggs continuously or every single day.

It is possible to check a pet’s fecal sample one day and not find any eggs and check the same pet the next day and find worm eggs present.

That’s why your veterinarian may want to check several samples from your pet if they strongly suspect your pet has worms.

Typically, hook worms and round worms shed eggs fairly regularly and therefore the eggs will usually show up on a fecal flotation test.

Whip worms are a little more difficult to diagnose simply because the worms don’t shed eggs continuously. To make things even more confusing, tape worms very rarely shed eggs and are extremely difficult to find tape worm eggs on a fecal flotation.

That takes us back to the reason it is such a good idea to check your pet’s bowel movements on a regular basis.

A good way to determine if your pet has tapeworms is to check your pet’s feces immediately after they have had a bowel movement. Frequently, tapeworm segments which are white, flat and about an inch long are easily spotted on top of the infected pet’s bowel movement.

Also, tapeworm segments that have completely dried up can be seen stuck to the hair near your pet’s rectal area. Dried up tape worm segments which look like tan colored pieces of rice, actually slightly smaller than rice, may also be found in your pet’s bed or an area where your pet lays a lot.

As I stated before, the best test for all other types of worms, or intestinal parasites, is the fecal flotation examination. You can collect a sample of your pet’s feces and place it in either a plastic bag or any kind of container with a lid.

If you prefer, your veterinarian can also collect a fecal sample from your pet which keeps you from having to gather the feces.

The moral of the fecal story is to check your pet’s bowel movements regularly, but don’t rely solely on visual inspection to determine if your pet has intestinal parasites.

Don’t forget. There are once a month medications to prevent heart worms, but also control most intestinal parasites as well.

Your dog must be tested for heart worms before starting one of the once a month medicines.

If your pet experiences any abnormality in their bowel movements, see your veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure your pet lives a long, healthy and happy life.

Dr. Jeff Castle is a veterinarian at Clark County Veterinary Clinic.