Dogs and cats may become infected with an internal or external parasite at some point in their lifetime. These parasites can cause everything from simple irritation to life-threatening conditions if they are left untreated. What’s more, some pet parasites can be transferred to you or your children. At ZippiVet, we’re often asked about the diseases parasites carry and whether they may be easily transmitted to the rest of the family. These diseases are called Zoonoses, or zoonotic diseases, and there are more of them than you’d think!
Common Infections That Spread From Pets to People
The Toxoplasma gondii parasite causes Toxoplasmosis, one of the most common pet to people infections. Cats are often the primary host and the parasite may complete its life cycle in the cat’s intestinal tract, passing back into the environment through feces. Cats are more commonly seen with clinical symptoms than dogs though dogs get infected too. At increased risk are young dogs with developing immune systems, and dogs that have impaired immunity. The top five symptoms in pets are neurological symptoms, seizures, tremors, depression and lethargy.
- Toxoplasmosis may cause flu-like symptoms in some humans, but most never develop symptoms.
- For infants born to infected mothers and for people with weakened immune systems, toxoplasmosis can cause extremely serious complications.
Giardia is a parasite that is transmitted to dogs, cats and people through food or water contaminated with stool. We’ve written about Giardia before and it’s one Austin pet owners in particular should know about.
- Symptoms for animals and people include diarrhea, greasy stools, and dehydration.
- People can also have abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms can last one to two weeks.
Cat-scratch disease is a bacterial disease that people may get after being bitten or scratched by a cat. About 40% of cats carry the bacteria at some time in their lives, and kittens younger than one year of age are more likely to have it. Most cats with this infection show no signs of illness.
- People who are bitten or scratched by an affected cat may develop a mild infection three to 14 days later at the site of the wound.
- The infection may cause symptoms such as fever, headache, exhaustion and/or a poor appetite. A person’s lymph nodes closest to the original scratch or bite can become swollen, tender, or painful.
Plague (yes, that’s the name) is a bacterial disease in animals, primarily cats and spread to people that can lead to serious illness or death if left untreated. Cats that hunt wild rodents and rabbits in the western, particularly the southwestern, U.S. are at greatest risk of becoming infected.
Cats are highly susceptible to plague and the symptoms are similar to those experienced by humans. Cats infected with plague can infect people through bites, scratches, coughs, or sneezes.
- Bubonic plague is the most common form with common symptoms of high fever, chills, headache and swollen lymph nodes.
- The other two forms of plague, septicemic and pneumonic, cause more severe disease.
Bacterial infections with scary names: campylobacter and salmonella are also commonly transmitted from dogs and cats to the rest of the family. They also spread through contaminated food, such as meat and eggs, water, or contact with feces of infected animals. Dogs and cats that are infected with the bacteria might show no signs of illness at all or might have a slight fever and/or diarrhea.
- People who become sick by the bacteria will have diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within two to five days after their exposure.
- Campylobacter can cause serious life-threatening infections in those with weakened immune systems, including infants, older persons.
How do Ticks on My Pet Pose a Health Risk to My Family?
Ticks are gross and they can make you sick. Vector-borne diseases are transmitted by fleas, ticks and other parasites that infest dogs and cats.
Lyme disease is a bacterial disease that is transmitted by deer ticks to the animal or human directly while sucking its blood over a 48 hour period. In dogs the most common signs of Lyme disease include lameness, fever, lack of energy, reluctance to eat and enlarged lymph nodes, sometimes with swollen, painful joints. Often cats with Lyme disease don’t show any symptoms, but those who do may have recurrent lameness of the limbs due to inflammation of the joints or “shifting-leg lameness.”
- Infected people will typically have a red bull’s eye-shaped rash at the site of the tick’s bite that appears after about seven days. Flu-like symptoms often quickly follow the rash. If not treated, Lyme disease can spread to other parts of the body and cause symptoms such as arthritis and loss of facial muscle tone (called Bell’s palsy). Lyme disease can be fatal.
Other diseases carried by ticks that attach to pets include ehrlichiosis relapsing fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.
Can Humans Get Worms from Dogs and Cats?
There are a number of intestinal parasites or worms that can infect dogs and cats, including roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms. One worm can produce up to 100,000 eggs per day, which are then passed in the pet’s feces and spread throughout the area where the pet roams. Once in your home, some of these eggs can remain infective and present a health risk for your pet and humans for years. The best way to prevent infection in pets is to control the flea population in the environment.
Roundworms are the most common intestinal parasite in pets and the most likely to be spread to humans. Dogs and people can become infected by accidentally swallowing roundworm eggs from the environment. In addition, worms can cross through the placenta, milk, or colostrum of a mother dog, passing the infection to her puppies. Infected puppies usually do not develop well and may have a pot-bellied appearance.
- Roundworm eggs, once ingested can hatch inside the human intestinal tract and the immature worms can travel to tissues in the body, including the eyes liver, lung brain and/or central nervous system, potentially causing serious infections. In people, children are most often affected with roundworm.
Dogs can become infected with hookworms through accidentally ingesting the parasite from the environment or through their mother’s milk or colostrum. Puppies are most often affected and might have anemia and dark, bloody stool. Severe infections in some puppies can lead to death.
- Walking barefoot, kneeling, or sitting on ground contaminated with stool of infected animals may lead to the spread of hookworms in people. Hookworm eggs enter the top layers of skin and cause an itchy reaction and a red squiggly line might appear. Symptoms usually clear up without medical treatment in six weeks or less.
Tapeworm is a parasite spread to dogs, cats, and people through the ingestion of infected fleas. This parasite is common but fortunately rarely causes illness in pets or people. Infections with tapeworm can sometimes be detected by finding rice-like segments of the tapeworm crawling near the anus or in fresh bowel movements. In severe infections, pets can lose weight and have mild diarrhea.
- In people, children are more commonly infected but don’t usually show signs of disease.
Parasites can infect your pet at any time of year. External parasites, such as fleas and ticks may be less common outside during certain times of the year (i.e. winter), but they can survive in a home in any season. Always wash your hands and the hands of children with running water and soap after contact with pets, their stool, and their food.
At ZippiVet, we’re here to help you with a year-round parasite control program, including a preventative flea and tick treatment. At your pet’s check-up we test for common parasites and perform a physical examination.
We know how to accurately diagnose and safely treat parasites and other health problems that not only affect your dog or cat, but also the safety of you and your family. If you see any of the warning signs in your family pet, you can quickly and easily schedule an appointment online or walk in to our clinic for a check-up. ZippiVet is open seven days a week. Book Now.
It’s a known fact that heartworm is, quite literally, heartbreaking. Luckily, this deadly disease is easily avoidable with proper preventative care. One little pill or topical a month can save your dog a whole lot of pain and solitary confinement and save you lots of money and heartbreak.
How do dogs get heartworm?
Like many other dangerous pet parasites, heartworm is carried by mosquitos. A single mosquito bite can infect your dog – which makes Austin’s hot, wet climate particularly dangerous for dogs.
What is heartworm?
As its name suggests, heartworm is a parasite that infects the internal organs of your pet. When a mosquito carrying heartworm bites a pet, miniscule larvae can be deposited into the bloodstream. After six months, these larvae mature into adult heartworms. Adult heartworms can grow up to 12 inches long and usually lodge themselves into your pet’s heart, lungs and blood vessels.
What animals can get heartworm?
Dogs, ferrets, wolves coyotes, foxes and occasionally cats.
Can my dog get heartworm from other dogs?
Technically no, however any animal infected with heartworm could potentially pass it along to a mosquito, which could infect other animals. Regardless of whether your pet is an indoor or outdoor pet, or lives in a warm region or a cold one, your pet has a chance of getting heartworm.
What are the symptoms of heartworm?
One of the worst parts of heartworm disease is the fact that there are little to no symptoms. Early heartworm can have no symptoms but as the disease progresses, mild symptoms such as a persistent cough, lethargy, decreased appetite, weight loss and a swollen belly from excess fluid can occur. If the disease involves multiple worms, cardiac blockage can occur resulting in caval syndrome: labored breathing, pale gums, bloody urine and cardiovascular collapse. Very few dogs survive caval syndrome even with surgery.
Because the symptoms can be difficult to detect it is crucial that you take your dog into your vet for heartworm detection regularly.
How can you treat heartworm?
The good news is that heartworm is treatable. The bad news is that it is expensive and can be very difficult for both you and the pup.
Typical heartworm treatment is as follows:
Diagnosis can be both costly and extensive. To determine whether your pup has heartworm and how bad the infection is, diagnosis usually requires several x-rays, blood work and several tests. Once the vet determines how severe the heartworm is they will be able to determine the proper treatment. Treatment usually involves several painful, arsenic based injections to treat the worms and larvae followed by an intensive one to three month period in which the dog may have very limited physical activity and even surgery.
How do you prevent heartworm?
Annual check ups and monthly preventive care are the best ways to avoid heartworm. Preventative care comes in both topical and pill form. However, if you miss a dose, you lower the effectiveness of prevention. Thus, we recommend regular parasite checks just in case.
When should my dog be tested for heartworm?
All dogs should be test annually during their routine checkup and maintain preventative care as prescribed by their vet.
To coincide with Austin’s rainy season, ZippiVet is offering free heartworm checks for Austin pet owners. Visit our offer page and schedule an appointment to make sure your dog is ready to enjoy an Austin summer!
We can have some great weather here in Austin. Our long, hot summers and short, not-so-cold winters attract people and pets from all over. Unfortunately, Austin’s warm and humid climate also makes it the perfect breeding grounds for fleas and ticks, which can cause a host of problems for our pets, and for us. Continue…