Roundworms are nasty parasites that are transmitted through fecal-contaminated soil and water to all living animals as well as humans. It lives in hosts of all ages which makes it a really serious problem for young pets and our children. The good news is that roundworms can be avoided with a monthly preventative. They are also easily treated with deworming medication.

Overview

Roundworms are an extremely common parasite that live in the intestines of puppies, kittens, dogs, cats, and occasionally people. There are many species of roundworms and they can grow quite large (up to 7 inches in length) and can cause severe illness in those infected with them.

These parasites can be passed on from mother dogs to their puppies in the uterus or through their milk while nursing. Cats do not infect their kittens in the uterus but do pass the worms on through their milk.

The adult roundworm lives in the intestines of animals and people where they reproduce and lay eggs. Whenever an infected host passes it feces they will also shed the roundworm eggs. This is when other animals can become infected by having contact with the contaminated feces or ground where the feces are deposited. Animals that eat prey can also become infested with roundworms if the prey has them as well.

Once the roundworm eggs have been eaten they will pass through to the digestive tract. Eventually these eggs will begin to hatch and migrate into the liver and lungs. Once they reach the lungs animals will usually develop a cough. As the animal coughs up these larvae they inadvertently swallow them. Once swallowed the larvae will enter the stomach and then pass into the intestine. Here they will grow and reproduce and the cycle of infestation begins again.

Roundworms are zoonotic parasites. Such parasites can live in animals and humans. Those at the highest risk of infestation are children. Children can become contaminated at playgrounds, beaches, and backyards that are frequented by pets and other animals.

Roundworm infestation in humans can cause several types of larva migrans. This is an illness that is caused by the migration of young roundworms through body organs such as the liver, lungs, and nervous system. The young worms may also migrate to the eye which may cause blindness. This is called ocular larva migrans which occurs all over the world. Especially in developing countries with poor sanitation.

Households that have children and pets should have their pets tested annually for roundworms. Using a monthly heartworm preventative that also controls roundworms and other parasites is strongly recommended. It is also advisable that all people wash their hands after handling pets or going to the beach, playground, or their backyards. Sandboxes should also be covered when not in use to help discourage cats from using them as litterboxes.

Signs and Identification

Animals that are severely affected with roundworms are puppies and kittens. They will often look potbellied. Other signs may include:

  • Coughing
  • Dull, thin coat
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Failure to gain weight

Veterinarians can diagnose a roundworm infection by finding microscopic roundworm eggs on a fecal exam. Unfortunately, some owners discover that their pets are infected when live roundworms are expelled in vomit or feces.

Treatment of Roundworms

Most veterinarians will routinely treat young pets with an antiparasitic medication. They will do this several times during the first year or two of the animals life which interrupts the worm's life cycle. Later on the veterinarian will place the animal on a monthly heartworm preventative that also controls roundworms and other intestinal parasites.

The eggs of the roundworms are not always apparent in fecal material from infected pets. Because of this it is advisable that you deworm your puppies and kittens even if a fecal test does not confirm a roundworm infection.

Usually the whole deworming process is carries two or three times with young animals or to clear up an infected animal. The veterinarian will usually ask you to provide a fecal sample about every two or three months during the treatment process until it is resolved.

Prevention or Roundworms

Roundworm eggs can remain active in the environment for several months to many years. For this reason it is very important that pet owners clean up and dispose of pet feces immediately. They should never be placed in a garbage bin. Instead, they should be taken home and flushed down the toilet.

It is also advisable that you keep your pet on a leash so as to reduce exposure to areas that may have been contaminated by other animals. This will also help to minimize the chance that your dog or cat will eat infected rodents and birds.

It is best to keep cats indoors to prevent them from hunting infected prey.

Keep litterboxes clean at all times. Especially if you have more than one cat or animal that uses it. This is a major source of domestic infestation which usually occurs when you introduce a new animal to the household. It is best to have any new animals tested for roundworms and other internal parasites before being introduced to your household.

Always consult a veterinarian about the best ways to protect a pet and its human family against intestinal parasites. A monthly heartworm preventive that includes medication for roundworms is a good start for year-round protection from these parasites. Since it’s easy to forget a monthly treatment and no parasiticide is 100 percent effective, periodic fecal exams are still recommended to ensure that a pet remains parasite free.

Roundworm Infection Cycle | Pet Quest
The infection cycle of a roundworm in pets.
Roundworm Infection Cycle | Pet Quest
The infection cycle of a roundworm in pets.
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