Dr. Brian G'Sullivan Discusses Parasites

posted: by: Dr. Brian G'Sullivan Tags: "Clinic Specials" "News" 

Greetings and salutations from the new guy at the practice, fresh from the exotic wilds of Bucks County, PA, where many New Yorkers go on safari to glimpse realtors.  I’m at the practice by the good graces of Providence and Doctor Harris.  I’m on the website to do a little education with some humor.  Or some education with very little humor.  I’m nothing if not self-deprecating. 

Despite the obvious cultural differences between Bucks and Lancaster Counties, such as the relative cholesterol levels of the cuisine, our pets have the same problems being in the same climatic area.  Yes there may be fewer cases of dogs being kicked by horses in Bucks and less jewelry ingestion here in Lancaster, but the big things are the same.  Like parasites.

The word derives from Latin and Greek meaning eating at another person’s table.  They are organisms that live in or on another organism that benefit by deriving nutrients at the expense of the hosts.  Free-loaders.  They run the gamut from those that just eat what you eat, like tapeworms, to those that suck your blood, like ticks, fleas and roundworms .  Despite it being in the best interest of the parasite to not outright kill its host, the drive to go forth and multiply can trump that if the parasite burden is too much.  Even worse, some worms could get into the wrong species and get lost in their migration and then no one benefits, because they are a dead end host and they do more damage since they weren’t made for that species.  Lose-lose.  This is why it is so important to do parasite control from a public health stand point.  Yes, your healthy adult pet can tolerate a normal worm burden, but she is shedding more of the enemy’s eggs out there that can increase the worm burden and thence more progeny.  Those can be ingested by the very young animals and can be passed by the placenta or the milk. They can also get into us, namely those that don’t wash hands that count as tax deductions.  Some hookworms even penetrate the skin, so even if your kid has clean hands this can happen.  Trust me, you do not want larva in your internal organs or eyes, much less in your child’s.

The parasite control we typically use is heartworm prevention that gets intestinal parasites as well.  While canine heartworm disease is not as common up here compared to down south, it is recommended to be on a preventative due to difficulty in treating the disease, as well as the ancillary benefits of taking out worms that are more prevalent and can affect us.  Puppies and kittens are routinely given de-wormers that must be given in series, since there are usually several stages, and only the adult worms are nailed by the drug.  So you must hit them again, and again.  We run fecal exams to look for their eggs, not the worms for the most part.  You are going to get a reflex condescending look from the average veterinarian for uttering the phrase “But I don’t see any worms!”  (It’s hard not to after hearing it so often. And we do try not to give that look since we do like our clients) There is NO reason to see the adult roundworm or hookworm in the stool; it’s happy enough sucking blood where it is making eggs in the intestines.  Some may come out and some may be vomited up, especially if the worm burden is high.  It is much more likely that you will see the worms once the patient is de-wormed, as the drugs paralyze the worms so the body can dispose of them with the normal effluence.  Oddly enough, you may see tapeworms segments, which are actually egg sacs, and we won’t pick them up on fecal exams.  The drug for them allows the body to digest the worm.  So with them, you see the worm until you treat, but with hooks and rounds, it’s the other way around.  There are also other intestinal parasites that are not worms, such as Giardia and coccidia, which are microscopic regardless of the stage, though they seems to function the same in us as in the pet. We have treatments but not prevention for those.

Parasites are so prevalent and varied, that we just can’t discuss them all in one sitting.  Intestinal ones are the biggest in my mind due to having kids that forget to wash hands and eat inappropriate things.  (The similarity to my dog is amazing, in fact.) 

To sum up before I collapse the soap box:

Run fecal exams.  You didn’t see worms.  You also didn’t see the flu virus.  I rest my case.

Use preventative for the parasites that you can prevent.

Do it for the good of the public, both furry and hairless.