There is More to Worms than Meets the Eye
One of the most common misconceptions about worms in pets is that you will see them in the stool. The majority of worms are too small when passed to be seen, infrequently passed so unless you look at 100% of every bowel movement of your pet every day you will miss those that can be seen, and there are immature stages in the body that cause problems long before they are possibly visible. Worms that live in the intestines are actually common even in the best cared for dog or cat. Even people can pick up parasites so a little knowledge can help both you and your pet.
Most pets pick up worms from walking or sniffing (then eating) some soil. Most all of the soil in backyards, parks and other areas has some infestation by the larvae stage of the most common worms. These you will not see at all. Larvae stages are microscopic - not visible. Hook worms for example actually creep through the skin to infect any mammal. Did your mom every say "Don't run around without your shoes on! You'll get worms!" She was right. People can pick up hook worms this way, or laying on the bare ground say when camping. Round worms are very common in the soil and again, people can become infected when they do not wash their hands after handling dirt then eating.
Veterinarians are always asking for your pet's stool. That has to be the most difficult specimen for clients to bring in. For some people it is as if we are asking for nuclear waste! I know it is not the most pleasant thing in the world to "handle" but worm control starts with looking for it.
We have nifty stool collection cups that you only have to bring in a small amount and it keeps your hands off of the stinky stuff. Samples should be less than 24 hours old, and not frozen.
A stool tests (fecal test) can find worm eggs when they are shed. Occasionally there may not be eggs shed that day so a negative test may not really mean no worms. If a pet seems to show signs of worms - weight loss, anal gland problems, frequent stools (more than 2 a day), soft stools or chronic skin problems then a broad spectrum worming is often given. Sometimes a worming will be given if the pet's lifestyle can put them at higher risk for worms. A cat goes out occasionally is at high risk due to hunting habits.
The best way to prevent parasites is to keep your dog and cat on monthly heartworm prevention prescribed by your veterinarian. All of the heartworm products will control intestinal parasites as well as heartworm. The range of control will vary with the preventative, so discuss worm control with your veterinarian. Do not stop the monthly prevention in the winter. It is important to keep it up year around.
If you want to know even more about worms than what I have covered here - see the article on our website. It is the most frequently hit page on our site!
- written by Dr. Sally Foote