Pet Health

Heartworms, Intestinal Worms, and Your Pet

By May 17, 2021 No Comments


Let’s talk about parasites. They aren’t a topic most people want to even think about, much less discuss, but as a pet owner, you want to protect your pet from these troublesome and potentially dangerous creatures. Plus, these pet parasites can make humans sick as well.


Heartworm disease is becoming more common in Markham and Unionville, and in fact, most heartworm disease cases in Canada are found in southern Ontario. Mosquito-transmitted heartworms are found in dogs in our area every year. Dogs who have travelled to parts of the US that have heartworms are becoming infected and bringing them back to Ontario. In addition, heartworm disease has been diagnosed in dogs with no history of travel outside our area. Heartworm disease can cause lasting health problems in pets and can be deadly. Signs of heartworms in dogs and cats include coughing or gagging, difficulty or rapid breathing, fatigue, reluctance to exercise, weight or appetite loss, and abdominal swelling. In some pets, heartworms may cause no symptoms, especially in the early stages.

Heartworm disease is difficult to treat. In fact, no heartworm disease treatment is approved for cats. Fortunately, heartworm disease is preventable.

Roundworms, Hookworms, and Whipworms Roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms can pose a year-round threat to dogs and cats in Markham and Unionville. These worms live in the intestines of pets and can cause diarrhea, vomiting, unexplained weight loss, and changes in appetite, especially in young pets and those with a large number of worms.

Puppies and kittens with intestinal worms may fail to grow properly or appear potbellied, and pets with hookworms can also end up with anemia (a potentially life-threatening condition in which the number of circulating red blood cells is decreased). However, many adult cats and dogs with intestinal parasite infections don’t show signs of illness.

Roundworms and hookworms can also infect people, potentially causing respiratory issues, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and weight loss.

Tapeworms Quite small compared to other tapeworms, Echinococcus multilocularis doesn’t get longer than 1 centimetre (other tapeworms that infect pets can grow up to 70 centimetres in length). E. multilocularis infects the intestinal tract of wild canids, like foxes and coyotes, but this parasite can infect domestic dogs (and occasionally cats) as well.

Pets who eat rodents or feces are at risk for E. multilocularis infection, but these intestinal tapeworms don’t tend to cause symptoms in dogs or cats. The real concern is the tapeworm eggs that are expelled from infected wild animals or pets. When people accidentally ingest these eggs from contaminated soil or feces, they can develop an infection called “alveolar echinococcosis” or AE. This infection causes tumour-like cysts to form in the liver and lungs. Dogs can get AE too, but canine infection is rare.

Fortunately, AE remains rare in people as well. However, it can cause severe disease, making tapeworm prevention in pets essential.

Hunters and young children are at particularly high risk for exposure to this tapeworm’s eggs. But considering that coyotes and foxes can be found in Markham and Unionville, more people may also have a chance of becoming infected.

Most people won’t show any signs of AE infection until 5 to 15 years later. At that point, the cysts are often extremely tough to treat, requiring surgery and possibly chemotherapy. AE can be fatal. That’s why preventing E. multilocularis in pets is essential.

Keep These Parasites Away!

Being proactive is the best way to help keep your pet and your entire family safe from these nasty parasites, which can cause serious, potentially lasting illness in dogs and cats, as well as people. That’s why at Bridle Trail Veterinary Clinic, we recommend parasite control for all of our patients.

Contact us to discuss your pet’s personalized parasite prevention plan, or we can review our recommendations at your dog or cat’s next wellness checkup. Call us today to make sure your pet is up-to-date on necessary parasite control medication or to order a refill.

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