Happily exploring his new home, Scruffy sniffs here and there, then scampers over to the litter box, climbing in and sampling the delicacies that Fluffy has left behind. Gagging, you hit the veterinarian's number on your speed dial. Meanwhile, Scruffy licks his chops and wags his tail happily.
Scruffy and Fluffy may already be infected with the common roundworm, Toxascaris leonina or Toxocara cati. Roundworm eggs are transmitted during pregnancy, by eating droppings or soil or, in the case of T. cati, through the mother's milk. The worms are 3 to 5 inches long and spaghetti-shaped. Living in the intestines, occasionally a worm is passed in the droppings, also known as feces.
Hookworms and Whipworms
Both hookworms (Ancylostoma or Uncinaria) and whipworms (Trichuris) are transmitted to Scruffy from his mother, when the larvae burrow into his skin or by eating cat or dog feces. These worms are tiny, thread-like parasites, less than 1/2-inch long and hard to see in Scruffy's feces. Hookworms are especially dangerous to a young puppy like Scruffy because they attach themselves to the lining of the intestines, sucking his blood. In a severe infestation, Scruffy could become severely anemic.
When examining Scruffy's feces, you may see wiggling, wormlike segments, about the size of a grain of rice. These are probably segments that have broken off of the main body of a tapeworm (Cestodes). Unlike other worms, tapeworms need an intermediate host -- the common flea. When the segments pass from Fluffy, they're full of tapeworm eggs. The flea eats an egg, the tapeworm develops inside the flea and when Scruffy is biting at an itchy spot, he eats the flea, along with the tapeworm. The tapeworm lives in the small intestine, growing and repeating the cycle.
Scruffy's habit of eating cat droppings is best controlled by making the litter box inaccessible to the curious puppy. Placing the litter box on top of the drier or on the workbench in the garage are workable, although not aesthetic, solutions. An alternative is installing an electronically-activated pet door on a closet or cabinet door and placing the transmitter collar on the cat. The door will only open for Fluffy when she goes inside to use the litter box.
Your veterinarian has safe oral medications that kill the worms without harming Scruffy and Fluffy. When you take them to the vet for treatment, the doctor needs a fresh stool from each pet in a clearly-labeled plastic bag. The laboratory examines the stools for worm eggs and segments. While it make take several treatments, Scruffy and Fluffy will be worm-free in just a few weeks. Meanwhile, add a flea prevention routine with an oral or spot-on product recommended by your vet.
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats
- College of Veterinary Medicine - University of Illinois: Worm Wrap-Up: A Primer on Common Pet Parasites
- 2ndchance.info: Tapeworms in Your Dog or Cat
- University of Kentucky College of Agriculture: Pet-Centered Flea Prevention and Control
- Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images