Intestinal Parasites: Healthy Pet/Happy Pet 14

Article Series for Dunes Living Magazine

By: Dr. Amanda Thomas

Even though hurricane [Florence] is over, we are still in hurricane season along the Grand Strand–at least through the end of November…

I know we are all hoping for dry, comfortable weather in the weeks and months ahead, but the perils associated with all of this water may not be entirely behind us, at least not from my perspective.

It is common for veterinarians to see patients that come to the vet hospital for gastrointestinal signs and symptoms following exposure to water, whether it’s ocean water, pools, rainwater, canals, rivers, lakes or just standing water in their own backyard. An overabundance of water, as with our recent flooding, will bring up and out of the soil organisms that cause a variety of illnesses and infections in our pets. Humans are also susceptible to these same infections when our water sources are contaminated, especially the elderly, the very young and those with underlying health conditions.

Parasites that come from water sources infect our pets when they are exposed to this water and drink it, or lick it from their fur. These microscopic organisms then reside in the stomach and gastrointestinal tract of our pets. They are primarily protozoa (single cell organisms) and helminths (worms). You can’t see them and you won’t suspect them in your pet until there is a problem. You may notice stomach or gastrointestinal upset like not appetite, a painful abdomen, soft stools, or diarrhea.

The infections I expect to see in the coming months in our patient population will be Giardia and Cryptosporidium.  Signs and symptoms you should watch for are discomfort, abdominal pain, vomiting, soft stools, and diarrhea.

Thankfully, most pet owners are exceptionally devoted to giving their dogs Heartworm preventative medication every month, year-round, which protects them from most but not all Helminth worm infections. However, Heartworm medication (the once a month treatment) does not provide protection from any of the other water-borne infections mentioned above.

I would suggest that if you suspect your pet has picked up an infection from any water source, or is showing any signs of illness or gastrointestinal upset, you should call your veterinarian and take a stool sample to them for testing. A fecal test will reveal whether or not your pet has any of the parasitic infections communicable through water, and your veterinarian will prescribe the appropriate treatment. Prophylactically, you may want to take them a fecal sample even if your pet is not showing symptoms, since these infections – transmissible to humans – can easily go unnoticed. Call your vet if you have any concerns whatsoever.