Why is fecal parasite testing important?

Yes, we live in the north and have very cold and snowy winters. Intuitively one would think that this would help kill many parasites. Believe it or not we do actually see lots of pets with intestinal parasites in Massachusetts. Even pets that spend all or much of their time indoors or a fenced yard are not immune. Pretty much every day we see fecal test reports come back from the lab with positive results. We commonly see roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, giardia and coccidia in our patients. These parasites are all extremely treatable but many are contagious to people (especially kids) and can make pets pretty sick until they are discovered and treated.

How on earth could these parasites be getting into our pets?

Well we do have plenty of wildlife around, even in urban areas. Infected wildlife or pets that poop outside can contaminate soil, ponds or puddles with worm eggs, larvae or protozoa cysts. Pets that simply walk around outside can pick up infective forms of the organisms on their feet. As soon as they lick their feet they can become infected. Drinking water from contaminated sources is another way that pets commonly get infected. Ingestion of infected wild life (like rodents) is one other source. But what about my indoor cat? If your cat is a great hunter you may not have even known that a mouse got into your house. Cockroaches and flies are other known sources since they may eat animal feces and come into the house. Cats love chasing bugs. Fleas are small enough to fit through screens and spread tapeworms to your cat when eaten during normal grooming. Even house plants can be a source of infection. It has been found that 5-10 % of all potting soil contains roundworm eggs.

Won’t I know if my pet has parasites?

Depending on the type of parasite and number of worms your cat or dog may be pretty sick with diarrhea or vomiting prompting suspicion and fecal parasite testing. Some pets may have pooped or vomited evidence of the worms. Other parasites show minimal symptoms. Perhaps an occasional soft stool is chocked up to eating something from the table. Maybe there has been an unexplained mild weight loss. Every pet should have a poop sample brought to the vet for testing every year. Some pets may need more frequent testing if they hunt or have more wildlife or dog park exposure. Monthly parasite preventatives are a must. Heartworm preventatives for both dogs and cats provide some protection against some intestinal worms but no product exists that protects against everything. Annual poop testing is one of the most important parts of veterinary care for your pet and a safety measure for your family.

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