Information on this page is credited to the Companion Animal Parasite Council. The CAPC is an independent council of veterinarians and other animal health care professionals established to create guidelines for the optimal control of internal and external parasites that threaten the health of pets AND people.
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People, Pets, & Parasites
frequently asked questions
Q: Why should I control parasites for my pet year-round?
A: Due to the large number of internal and external parasites and the high risk of pet infection, controlling parasites year-round is the most reliable way to ensure the highest level of health for your pet and well-being of your family. Year-round prevention is the most effective way to control cat and dog parasites and the diseases they can carry.
Q: Why can’t I treat my pet for parasites just during the summer months?
A: Parasites can infect your pet any time of year. While external parasites, such as fleas and ticks, may be less of a problem during certain times of the year, depending on where you live, internal parasites (worms) can be present year-round. That’s why it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to implement a year-round parasite control program.
Q: Do fleas on my pet present a health risk to my family?
A: Yes. Fleas can carry and transmit several potential illnesses to humans, including rickettsiosis (infection with Rickettsia) and bartonellosis (infection with Bartonella). Also, fleas serve as an intermediate host for tapeworms, which can infect both your pet and humans.
Q: What human-health problems are associated with ticks?
A: Ticks transmit a large number of diseases in North America. These diseases include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, relapsing fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and tick paralysis. It is important for the health of your pet, as well as the safety of your family, to include ticks in your pet’s year-round parasite control program.
Q: What kind of internal parasites or worms can infect my cat or dog?
A: There are a number of intestinal worms that can infect dogs and cats, and they vary according to the species. In general, these include tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms, and they are very prolific. In fact, one worm can produce more than 100,000 eggs per day, which are then passed in the pet’s feces and spread throughout the area the pet roams. Once in the environment, these eggs can remain infective and present a health risk for your pet and to humans for years.
Q: How does my dog or cat get intestinal worms (tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, whipworms)?
A: Dogs and cats are most commonly infected when they ingest (eat) intestinal worm eggs that have been passed through the feces of an infected dog or cat. Tapeworms can be transmitted to pets that ingest fleas or other intermediate hosts, such as small rodents, that carry tapeworm larvae. Some worm species can be transmitted to puppies and kittens through the mother’s placenta and milk.
Q: How can my veterinarian determine if my pet has intestinal parasites (worms)?
A: Most intestinal parasites can be diagnosed through a physical examination and the microscopic analysis of your pet’s feces. Your veterinarian can conduct the examination and fecal tests to determine if your pet has worms and then prescribe the appropriate treatment or preventive program.
Q: If my dog or cat has intestinal worms, how do these parasites infect humans?
A: Roundworms are the most common intestinal parasite of pets and the most likely to be transmitted to humans. Humans can accidentally ingest infective worm eggs that have been passed through the pet’s feces and left in the environment. The eggs hatch in the human’s intestinal tract, and the immature worms travel to various tissues in the body, including the eyes and brain, causing serious infections.
Q: Are heartworms a parasite I should be concerned about for my pet?
A: Yes. Heartworms can be a very serious problem for both dogs and cats, especially those in mosquito-infested areas, as mosquitoes are a vector and intermediate host for the pest. Heartworms can kill or seriously debilitate pets that are infected with them. That’s because heartworms live in the bloodstream, lungs, and heart of infected pets. Your veterinarian can do a blood test to determine if your pet has heartworm disease. A year-round preventive program is most effective to keep pets free of heartworms.
Q: Can heartwoms that infect my dog or cat also infect humans?
A: Rarely will heartworms infect humans as humans are an aberrant host. However, human cases of heartworm infection have occurred, causing cysts in lungs or eyes.
Q: How can I reduce the risk of parasites infecting my family?
A: You can reduce the risk of parasitic infection by eliminating parasites from pets; restricting access to contaminated areas, such as sandboxes, pet “walk areas,” and other high-traffic areas, and practicing good personal hygiene. Disposing of pet feces on a regular basis can help remove potentially infective worm eggs before they become distributed in the environment and are picked up or ingested by pets or humans.
Q: I am pregnant and my doctor told me to get rid of my cat because it might have toxoplasmosis. What is toxoplasmosis and do I have to get rid of my cat?
A: Toxoplasma is a protozoal parasite that causes toxoplasmosis and is commonly found in raw or undercooked lamb or beef. It can harm a developing fetus. Cats can serve as an end-stage host for the parasite when they eat small rodents that carry the protozoa and then pass the infective oocysts of the parasite in their feces, thereby exposing pregnant women to possible infection. If you are pregnant, you do not need to get rid of your cat. Avoiding raw or undercooked meat, keeping your cat from hunting, and having someone else change the cat’s litter box daily will eliminate the risk of possible infection.
Q: My dog has been diagnosed with Lyme disease. How did he contract it, and can I catch the disease from him?
A: Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia organism that is carried by the tiny deer tick, which is very common in many parts of the country. If you or your dog is bitten by a tick carrying this organism, you or your dog can contract Lyme disease. However, your dog cannot give the disease directly to you if it is infected. Your veterinarian can prescribe a program to treat the disease if it develops.
Q: My dog runs with another dog that is being treated for mange. What is it and should I be concerned?
A: There are several different types of mange, with the two most common types being sarcoptic mange or scabies and demodectic mange. Both are caused by tiny parasitic mites that burrow into the skin, which results in skin irritation, hair loss, and crusting or scabs forming.
Sarcoptic mange is nonseasonal and can infect dogs of any age or breed. Demodectic mange is a complex issue that involves a large number of mites (Demodex canis) in the hair follicles. The infestation can be either localized to the head or other part of the dog or generalized to a larger area. Sarcoptic mange is easily spread from dog to dog by direct contact; therefore, all dogs and other pets should be treated. Humans can also be infested with this parasite and should take precautions as well. Current data indicate that demodectic mange is not contagious.
Q: My cat’s ears are inflamed and it shakes its head frequently and scratches its ears. Does it have ear mites?
A: Quite possibly, but your veterinarian can provide a definite diagnosis. Ear mites are common in cats and are easily passed between animals, so it is important to treat all exposed pets. Ear mites can cause severe discomfort for the pet and lead to secondary ear infections if not promptly treated.