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Pets & Parasites: The Real Scoop

When we hear about parasites in animals, it can be a confusing topic. First of all, what is a parasite? Is it a worm, a single-celled protozoan, an insect like a flea? The answer is ALL THREE!

Intestinal Parasites

What are worms?

There are two kinds of worms- intestinal and circulatory. Roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms and whipworms are types of intestinal worms. Intestinal worms are very common, and various medications are used to rid your pet of them. Puppies are born with worms, and pets can be exposed to parasites anytime they go outside. This is why your vet will regularly deworm your pet. You can purchase oral deworming medications (the same as your vet uses) at any local pet supply store or WalMart. The best plan is to rotate active ingredients, so the parasites do not build up a resistance to the medication.


Deworming medication

How do pets get worms?

Animals are usually born with roundworms- they are passed on from the mother. Deworming medication can be given to puppies as early as two weeks of age, but vet supervision is the best at that age to assure the right dosage. Tapeworms can be contracted from ingesting a flea that has bitten a tapeworm. Most dewormers require multiple treatments to be effective, so make sure you read the instructions on the package. You will find the same medications on the shelves at the pet supply stores at a fraction of the price vet clinics will charge.


Can I get worms from my pet?

Intestinal parasites can be contagios to people, but are VERY DIFFICULT to contract, so rest assured you will NOT get intestinal parasites from your pet by rubbing his belly, playing with him in the yard, or doing any other routine activities with him.



Heartworms are contracted through the bites of infected fleas and mosquitos. The adult worms live in the right ventricle of the heart, and they are eventually deadly. In the case of heartworms, the prevention if simpler, and less expensive than the painful treatment if your pet does contract them. The treatment of heartworms includes a series of two exptremely painful injections of Ivermectin given 24 hours apart  in the deep muscle of the lower back between the hips.

Prevention- Your puppy should be started on heartworm prevention prior to the age of 6 months. A heartworm test should be administered PRIOR to starting your pet on heartworm prevention if prevention is started after the age of 6 months. In the case of heartworms, testing is done with a sample of blood and only takes about 10 minutes. If the test is administered prior to the pet reaching 6 months of age, it will always be negative, as heartworms take 7 months to trigger a positive result on a test.

  Heartworm Life Cycle








Coccidia are microscopic,spore-forming, single-celled organizms. Coccidian parasites infect the intestinal tracts of animals, and are the largest group of apicomplexan protozoa.  


Coccidia is contracted many different ways, including through ingesting infected feces (example: dog snacking from the cat’s litter box), ingesting animal carcasses that are infected (example: cat kills and eats an infected mouse), ingesting an infected external parasite (example: dog bites at a tick and swallows it), etc. Researchers believe that most cats and dogs have had it at least once in their lives. It is especially common in animals in kennel situations, such as rescues or animal control, pet stores, or boarding kennels. 


It is not uncommon for very young puppies and kittens to contract coccidia, but the infection will usually go away without treatment. However, some animals do not fight it off on their own, and will require a vet’s assistance. The number one symptom to watch for is bloody stool. In the interest of saving money at the vet’s, and of sparing your pet harsh internal treatments, you may wish to wait a couple of days after thediagnosis to treat your pet. However, if your pet’s symptoms worsen, seek help immediately, since a coccidian infection can cause permanent damage or death. 


Giardia is also a one-celled organism. This parasite harms the small intestine of your pet. If your pet is young, symptoms of the infection include dehydration, watery diarrhea,weight loss and the appearance of poor health. Older pets may only show one symptom, or none at all.    

Giardia is communicable to people by drinking contaminated water, and will present very much like the stomach flu. 


This parasite is contracted through tainted water. Water can become tainted simply by your dog running around outside, stepping in somebody’s business, then putting his foot in his dish. Even the most immaculate pet owners sometimes encounter giardia. Also, if you have water on your property, your dog can contract it from that source (this is why hikers can no longer drink from those "crystal clear" mountain streams). 


Giardia does require vet treatment and will not clear up on its own. 





Some parasites cling to your pet on the outside. A flea or tick will latch on and suck your pet's blood. Lice will infest your friend's fur. An over-the-counter (OTC) dip or shampoo is usually all that is necessary to remove these pests. 


An adult flea will live its entire life on your pet if it is not killed. According to the AMVA,  “female fleas begin laying eggs within 24 hours of selecting your pet as a host, producing up to 50 eggs each day. These eggs fall from your pet onto the floor or furniture, including your pet's bed, or onto any other indoor or outdoor area where your pet happens to go. Tiny, worm-like larvae hatch from the eggs and burrow into carpets, under furniture, or into soil before spinning a cocoon. The cocooned flea pupae can lie dormant (inactive) for weeks before emerging as adults that are ready to infest (or reinfest) your pet. The result is a flea life cycle of anywhere from 12 days to 6 months” (http:www.avma.org/animal_health/brochures/external_parasites/external_parasites_brochure.as) .


Lice, mange, mites and ticks are all external parasites. Please view the above-mentioned site to read more about external parasites. 




If your pet has been bitten by an external parasite, you may wish to put a little plantain (not the banana; the herb) paste on the bite. The astringent quality of the plantain will draw out the poison left behind from the bite. The same is true of insect stings, spider bites and snake bites, though an immediate vet visit is always in order with venomous snake or spider bites. 


Natural Pet Worming Recipe from the Bulk Herb Store (www.bulkherbstore.com)


1 cup dry Mustard seed- powder

2 cups Thyme leaf - cut

2 cups Wormwood herb - cut*

1 cup Black Walnuthull - powder*

2 cups Sage leaf - chopped

1 cup Garlic - minced*

2 cups Rosemary leaf -chopped

1/2 cup Cloves - chopped

1 cup Psyllium seed- powder

2 cups Diatomaceous Earth(D.E.)*

The recipe’s inventor says,“As a rule of thumb, I use 1 cup of the powdered herbs to 2 cups of the cut herbs, except for the cloves and the D.E.” The most crucial ingredients in the recipe are marked by an asterisk (*).



Sprinkle the mixture on the animal's feed in the morning and evening for 7 days straight. A mature goat gets about 1 tablespoon in the morning and evening. A mature pony gets about 1/4 cup in the morning and evening. A mature horse gets about 3/4 cup in the morning and evening. Use slightly smaller amounts for offspring.

This recipe can be used with other animals (like dogs and cats). Just use your judgment on adjusting the amounts of the daily dosages according to the animal's body weight.