Kids with pets make the perfect picture of love unless your pet has intestinal parasites. That can spell bad news for your kid. Only a child can give that precious look and special caring touch, especially to a puppy or kitten. The dog or cat, in return, seems to show its unshakable loyalty to kids in particular. Their bond is truly infectious. Unfortunately, something else can be infectious, too. Intestinal worms (parasites) commonly found in pets can actually find their way to humans. And children are very susceptible.

Perhaps you’re not aware of the problem, or don’t even realize that these parasitic worms can infect people as well as pets. But each year, thousands of human cases are diagnosed, many of them in children. Left unchecked, the infection can lead to serious illness, even loss of sight. It’s a fact that intestinal parasites in pets are a growing public health concern. It’s also a fact that, as a pet owner, dealing with intestinal parasites is always going to be part of the deal.

Any pet, no matter how well cared for, is at risk of exposure to intestinal worms in the environment. Keeping your dog or cat well groomed and well fed certainly helps, but pets are animals at heart. They’re going to go sniffing and poking around, especially where other animals have been. And worm eggs can be anywhere, remaining infectious for months and even years. Despite all of your concern and care, your pet can ingest those eggs while it’s grooming or playing in the grass. The larvae can even penetrate your pet’s skin while it’s resting or sleeping.

Like it or not, the danger of infection to your dog or cat is always around. And so, too, is the danger of infection to you and your family. Think about it. The only ones who love stroking and cuddling your pet more than you do are your kids. The little ones love playing in sandboxes or in the yard, and hand washing may be an infrequent event. Plus, with a house pet, there are even more contact points between parasites and people: beds, chairs, and the carpet. Remember, your pet’s intestinal worm eggs can be anywhere, not just outdoors. Your pet is a member of your family, and it’s natural to want to protect all your family. Now, keeping both children and pets safe from intestinal parasites is easier than ever.

Recognizing the human and animal health threats that intestinal parasites pose is the first step. Next is treating your pet regularly for worms, because the odds are high that your puppy, kitten, or adult pet is infected with worms. Even after treatment, your pet may become re-infected with some type of intestinal parasite.

There are multiple species of intestinal parasites that infect pets. The most common are hookworms, whipworms, roundworms, and tapeworms. Hookworms and roundworms are passed to puppies from their mothers or to adults and puppies from the environment. Tapeworms are acquired when a pet eats an infected flea. That means it could be a dead flea in the environment that is infected. Whipworms are acquired when the pet drinks water or eats food contaminated with eggs.

Hookworms and roundworms are zoonotic parasites. This means they can be transmitted to people through ingestion or, in the case of hookworms, burrowing under the skin. The recommendation from the Companion Animal Parasitic Council (CAPC) is to feed pets cooked or prepared foods and give fresh water. Any sandboxes should be covered when not in use, garden areas should be protected immediately and feces in backyards should be picked up daily. Good personal hygiene must be practiced when handling animal waste especially in children and others at increased risk. Whipworms are not considered zoonotic at this time, although there are rare reports of infections. Tapeworms have several different species. While some of them infect both humans and dogs/cats, the Dipylidium caninum species, which dogs get from eating infected fleas, does not usually infect people.

According to the CAPC the current guidelines for controlling intestinal parasites are to give anthelmintic (dewormer) treatments to puppies/kittens at two weeks of age and repeating every two weeks until broad spectrum parasite control begins. This is usually at six to eight weeks of age when monthly heartworm preventatives are started. These products contain anthelmintics and therefore, when given once monthly help keep the pet free of intestinal parasites. Fecal examinations are recommended two to four times during the first year of life and one to two times per year in adults, depending on their health and lifestyle. Since none of the current heartworm preventative medications treat for tapeworms, additional medication is needed when they are found either by the owner or in fecal examinations done by your veterinarian. Controlling the flea population on both the pet and in the environment is the best way to prevent tapeworm infections. Please discuss this with the veterinarian and together you can protect both your pet and your family members.

In conclusion, to help keep your pet free of intestinal parasites and decrease the risk of hookworm and roundworm infections in children and others at increased risk, give a monthly heartworm preventative that also controls intestinal parasites, pick up feces in the yard daily and immediately when walking your pet in public areas. To decrease the chance of tapeworm infections, give a monthly flea control and treat the environment when possible to keep the flea population down.

The following graph compares some name brand products and which type of intestinal parasite each of them helps to prevent/control: