Zoonotic Potential of Common Cat/Dog Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal parasites are of great concern for your cat or dog and your family. Consider these statistics:

  • Nationwide, 34% of dogs are infected with gastrointestinal parasites. This increases to 54% for dogs living in the southeastern states.
  • Roundworms (Toxocara canis, T. cati) and hookworms (Ancylostoma sp.) are present in almost all areas of the United States.
  • Younger animals have much higher infection rates.
  • Many different parasite eggs can thrive in the environment for years.
  • 3-6 million people each year in the United States are infected by Toxocara larva migrans. The majority of these are children. Typically children become infected by putting soil/sand/objects that are contaminated with fecal matter into their mouths. They develop either visceral or ocular larva migrans.
  • Hookworm larvae can penetrate human skin and cause a condition known as cutaneous larva migrans.
  • Immunocompromised people are at greater risk for infection.
  • Tapeworms cannot be transmitted from your pet directly to you. However, you can be infected by ingesting a flea, the carrier of the infective stage. Many cats and dogs are infested by fleas.
  • Toxoplasmosis gondii, whose infective carrier is the cat, is of great concern to pregnant and immunocompromised people. More importantly is the infection of people through eating undercooked meat or improperly washed vegetables.
  • Giardia sp. can be carried by both cats and dogs. It is potentially zoonotic to people.

Guidelines for preventing intestinal parasite infection:

  • Deworm your pet on a regular basis as recommended by your veterinarian. The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) has a good set of guidelines to follow.
  • Have fecal exams done on your pet's feces 1-2 times a year. Have this done 2-4 times if under a year of age.
  • Do not allow your pets to eat raw meat. Do not eat undercooked meat yourself.
  • Practice good hygiene. Wash hand frequently, especially after handling pets or cleaning up pet waste. Make sure hands are washed before eating.
  • Try to pick up pet waste daily and dispose of it properly. It is not a good idea to use dog or cat waste as fertilizer for your garden.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Keep pets flea-free. Use appropriate flea/tick preventatives.
  • Wear shoes in areas where there are apt to be animal feces such as parks and playgrounds. Wear gloves while gardening.
  • Clean litter boxes daily. Have some one else besides pregnant or immunocompromised people perform this task.
  • Do not drink water from streams or other potentially contaminated sources. Provide your pet with fresh, potable water.
  • Keep pets clean. Give them a bath after deworming.
  • Administer heartworm products that also have activity against roundworms and hookworms year-round.