Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal Parasites


Throughout South Africa, roundworms and tapeworms (flatworms) are far and away the most common intestinal parasites of our pets. These worms can cause a variety of problems including diarrhoea, poor coat health, and general failure to thrive. In puppies and kittens roundworm infestation is the most common cause of the pot-bellied appearance. Severe infestation can lead to liver, lung, and brain damage. Roundworms are not only contagious for other pets, but also for humans, especially children via contact with pet feces. The migrating larvae in children can cause serious and tragic disease especially of the eye and brain. Rarely, a puppy or kitten will vomit or pass in his stool an entire adult roundworm. It is approximately 2″ – 10″ long, white, and may look like a piece of spaghetti. Although adult roundworms mainly infest only puppies and kittens, mature dogs and cats can also harbour the parasite in their intestines.

The most common source of puppy roundworms are roundworm larvae (immature roundworms) which are resting and causing no trouble in the wall of the mother’s uterus. These larvae migrate into the fetal pups during pregnancy. The larvae then mature in the young pup and start laying eggs when the puppy is about three weeks of age. From that time on, the affected puppy’s feces contain eggs and can transmit roundworms to other dogs as well as re-infecting itself.

There is a similar roundworm cycle in the cat, but with an important difference. Instead of larvae going from mother cat to kitten in the womb, the transfer takes place in the milk during nursing. Cat roundworm larvae can live in the mother cat’s breast tissue until nursing stimulates the larvae to enter the milk, transferring them into the suckling kitten.


Hookworm is a microscopic parasite that lives in the intestines of both dogs and cats. Hookworms can cause anemia, poor appetite, coughing, diarrhoea, constipation, internal inflammation, and sometimes death. They live off the blood of their host.

Puppies and kittens may contract hookworms through the milk from their mother. All dogs and cats are at risk for contraction of hookworms, and though infection is rare in humans, it is possible for pets to transmit hookworms to their owners.


Whipworm is a microscopic parasite that lives in the intestines of both dogs and cats. Whipworm infestations can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, anemia, and weight loss. However, a whipworm infestation may cause no symptoms at all. Whipworm can survive in the environment anywhere from a few months to a few years, and is transmitted when dogs or cats ingest infested matter.

Dogs and cats of all ages may contract whipworms, but to this point it is not considered a zoonotic disease (transmissible to humans).


Giardia infection is a common intestinal parasite in both dogs and cats. Giardia can be contracted through ingestion of contaminated food or materials. Infected animals shed Giardia cysts that can be picked up by other animals in food, water, or through self-grooming. This parasite has zoonotic potential, which means humans may contract Giardia as well.

Giardia is typically characterised by bloody stool and/or diarrhoea.

Coccidia (Isospora)

Coccidia is a parasitic type of infection seen in both dogs and cats. Infection often occurs from contact with infected feces, and is most common amongst puppies and kittens. The most common symptom is watery diarrhoea, often leading to bloody diarrhoea. Auxiliary symptoms such as weight loss, dehydration, and weakness may occur as well.

Eimieria: (Coccidia in reptiles, birds or rabbits)

This form of Coccidia is not parasitic in dogs or cats. Dogs and cats may show up positive for this if they ingest a reptile, bird or infected feces. This will pass through the pet on its own, without treatment.

No treatment necessary.


Tapeworms can cause a variety of problems including diarrhoea, coat changes, and failure to thrive. They are more common in adult pets than in puppies and kittens and can be contracted by all mammals. The most common variety is transmitted by fleas. Tapeworm can be transmitted to humans through direct contact with tapeworm-infected pets and their feces.

The tapeworm in the intestine breaks off its rear segments periodically, and they appear in the feces of an infested pet. The segments are white, flat, and approximately ¼” – ½” long and resemble “moving cucumber seeds or grains of rice”. If you see these moving objects in a fresh stool or stuck to the hair of a pet’s rear end, then the pet likely has a tapeworm infestation and can move straight to treatment. When the moving segments crawl away, dry up, and crack, they release hundreds of microscopic tapeworm eggs. Neither the segments nor the eggs are infective to a pet or a human, but if a flea larva happens to be nearby, it may ingest one of these eggs. When the larva matures into an adult flea (with the tapeworm egg still inside) and is ingested by a pet during grooming, he/she will get the tapeworm. The key to preventing tapeworm infestation is flea control.

Free Living Mites/Grain Mites

These mites are found in grain, and can originate from a dog or cat’s food. These will pass through on their own, without treatment. There is no need to change the pet’s food as the mites may have come from one kernel out of an entire bag.

No treatment necessary.

Non-Pathogenic Yeast: (Cyniclomyces Guttulatus also known as Saccharomycopsis Gutulatus)

This yeast inhabits the intestines and is considered “good yeast”; it is not harmful for your pet. When this yeast is present it usually signifies that something else is going on with the dog. This appears most commonly when a dog has diarrhea, is on an antibiotic, or experiences a change in food or has been given human food. There is no treatment necessary as this will pass through on its own.

No treatment necessary.


Monthly Heartworm/Intestinal Parasite Preventatives

Heartworm infection is easily and affordably prevented through the use of a regular heartworm prevention product.

For roundworms and hookworms, all puppies and kittens should be repeatedly dewormed starting at three weeks of age (before the roundworms are mature enough to lay eggs and contaminate the environment with more roundworms). Since most people don’t acquire their puppy or kitten until it is 6-10 weeks old, the deworming process usually doesn’t begin until that time.

This treatment is given orally and is very simple to administer.

Recommended protocol:

Administer a heartworm preventative product to your pet every month for the duration of its life. Dogs and cats are at risk for heartworm and intestinal parasite infection at any age.


Annual Fecal Test

Pet owners may submit a fecal sample to a veterinary clinic. Please ensure that the sample is no older than 12 hours, if at all possible. The fecal test will screen your pet for roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, giardia, and coccidia.

Microscopic examination of the stool does not always reveal tapeworm eggs. Veterinarians often must depend on the pet owner for a diagnosis of tapeworms (presence of white worm segments in feces or on the pet’s fur- will look like grains of rice).

From: VIP Petcare

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