While it may sound too simple, these five ingredients support a healthy immune system to fend of those pesky parasites.
Dr. Laurel Davis, western NC’s homeopathic vet, offers Stories from a Holistic Veterinarian, the blog of a holistic vet and “animal interpreter.” With a clinic in downtown Asheville, NC. Dr. Laurel also offers animal health, lifestyle and vaccination advice for cats, dogs and their human friends across the country.
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Know The Enemy Within: Internal Parasites and Your Dog or Cat
Spring has sprung and it’s so beautiful outside! The birds are chirping and there is evidence of life springing up all around us. Spring births new life, both the lovely…and the un-lovely.
Spring is an important season each year to consider how to treat parasites that may infest and cause harm to our furry buddies.
These squirmy-wormies, active mainly from early spring to late fall, can plague our dogs and cats and wreak havoc inside their bodies. In today’s blog post, I’ll give you the low-down on internal parasites.
The most commonly seen internal parasites here in my Asheville, NC clinic are Roundworms, Hookworms, Tapeworms, Giardia and Heartworms. Each parasite can do its own damage, and some can be transmissible to humans. No need to fret or get the heebie-jeebies though! That’s why I’m here – I’ll share with you the best ways to keep your entire family free of parasites.
First let’s talk a bit about each parasite, how they affect your fluff-muffin and whether they can be shared with humans.
We’ll talk about Roundworms first because they are the most common parasite in almost all mammals. This is because Roundworms have a very sneaky way of hiding their larvae in mama mammal’s mammary glands and lay waiting to be suckled into the baby’s body via mama’s milk. Sometimes, they can even make their way into the placenta and infect mammal babies before they are even birthed by their mamas. Roundworms absorb the nutrients in the cat’s or dog’s digestive system. This is especially problematic in puppies and kittens. The outcome is a malnourished, perhaps bony puppy/kitten with an enormous pot belly. Roundworm eggs are very prevalent in the soil in areas where dogs and cats frequent.
Although uncommon, problems can occur if humans ingest Roundworm larvae. While, fortunately, we cannot help the Roundworm reproduce and keep their life cycle going, we still can have problems from this parasite. They can burrow into a human’s eyes, brains, hearts and lungs. Even though this may sound scary, just keep your yard clean from feces and wash your hands after coming in contact with cat/dog feces or digging in the dirt. These precautions keep a human’s chance of infection very low.
Hookworms are very similar to Roundworms in that they are spread between dogs and cats through ingesting infected soil or feces. They “hook” onto your buddy’s intestine and suck blood. A heavy parasite load can cause anemia in puppies, kittens and smaller animals. If you have a very thin, lethargic kitten/puppy with a poor haircoat, hookworms could be the culprit.
Humans are much less affected by Hookworms. The larvae can burrow into the feet or hands of humans for a short period and cause an inflammatory response and red, itchy tracks while the Hookworms learn…well, they just can’t live inside a human being! Washing hands and feet after digging or playing in the dirt will make infection of you or any of your human family members unlikely.
Tapeworms can be more insidious and more dangerous to human beings. Your dog or cat can contract them by eating infected insects or rodents. Once ingested, these wormy rascals can cause effects from minor malnutrition and itching around the anus as the small segments (that look like rice), filled with tiny tapeworm eggs, called proglottids, independently crawl out of the dog/cat’s body. Ewwww!
I have seen strange things occur when a tapeworm infestation has been eliminated: a fat cat that started to lose weight, a thin cat started to gain weight, for example. Often, a cat’s inner eyelid (located in the lower corner of their eye, which often shows up when they are sleepy or sick) will be raised when they need to be dewormed for tapeworms.
Tapeworms may be eaten by a human who has handled their dog or cat’s feces. Humans are not a “definitive host,” which means that adult tapeworms will not develop in a human being; however the larvae can produce cysts on a human’s lungs, liver, eyes and brain which can lead to serious illness or even death.
In other words, during your next visit it’s very worth it to ask whether your dog or cat should be treated for Tapeworms!
Giardia is found in most streams and waterways, since it is a parasite that is shed in feces and carried by rain. It is a single-celled organism that can cause diarrhea in young and old animals. While it has the potential to do harm, many dogs who get Giardia never show symptoms.
When it comes right down to it, in combination, these healthy lifestyle choices are the most effective tools to fight parasites in your dog or cat:
- High quality food
- Plenty of exercise and socialization
- Clean water
- Clean environment
While it may sound too simple, those five ingredients support a healthy immune system. A strong, healthy immune system can fight off many, if not all, of the internal parasites listed above. Sometimes, it is best to allow your buddy to eliminate her own parasites.
Allowing our animal’s body to set its own limits when it comes to being able to handle and eradicate parasites helps to maintain a normally functioning immune system.
Case in point: I meet a healthy young dog or cat with beautiful and normal poop that has been diagnosed with Giardia. I would prefer to let his body’s immune system have the experience of clearing this infestation on its own. This allows his immune system the chance to create a memory of the experience, making it possible for subsequent infections of the same sort to be dealt with swiftly.
When the animal’s own immune system is compromised or there are other factors, I tend to use conventional drugs for deworming in acute phases and supportive treatment in the form of dietary changes, herbals and nutraceuticals to strengthen overall health and reduce susceptibility.
Diagnosis and Treatment:
The best way to make sure that your fur friend is clean and clear of any internal parasites is to have their feces tested for parasites twice per year: once in the spring and once in the fall. To learn more about the most dangerous of all internal parasites — Heartworms — follow this link to a previous blog that explores Heartworms and their treatment.
Now that you’ve been informed, time to go outside and play with your animal companion with confidence in your health and safety!
Dr. Laurel Davis is western NC’s homeopathic vet, offering phone and Skype consultations for animal lovers everywhere. Call 828-254-2221 or order an Ask Dr. Laurel™ phone or Skype session or bring your dog or cat to her downtown Asheville, NC clinic. Read more patient stories.
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