A parasite can be defined as an organism that lives in or on a host and gets its nutrition at the expense of the host (1).
Although we do our best to prevent it, our animals will likely get their mouths onto something they aren’t supposed to at some point during their lifetimes. Sometimes, these unwanted materials (think: contaminated feces, soil, rodents, insects, etc.) will contain parasites that may then infect your cat or dog’s gastrointestinal tract (2).
How do I know if my pet has intestinal parasites?
These are some of the most common intestinal parasites in dogs and cats:
- Roundworms: Most common in puppies and kittens, roundworms can be passed from mother to offspring and through contact with feces. Roundworm infections are indicated by lower growth rates and body condition, dull coat, and a potbelly (3).
- Hookworms: Similar to roundworms, hookworm infestations are often found in young animals. The common species of hookworms will cause anemia, and in severe cases even pneumonia. Anemia is due to this worm’s bloodsucking nature, which will also cause bleeding of internal wounds in areas such as the small intestine (3).
- Whipworms: Adult whipworms will concentrate themselves in the large intestine, and can cause diarrhea, weight loss, and blood in the feces. However, in cases of light parasite infection it is possible to not see any symptoms (3).
- Tapeworms: Tapeworms can infect many ages and types of animals (indoor, outdoor, hunting, etc.). Tapeworms are found in the intestines and cause improper digestion, upset stomach, diarrhea, and irritability. Good news is, severe disease is not often associated with these worms. If an animal is infected with this intestinal parasite, you can sometimes see eggs or tapeworm segments in the feces (3).
- Giardia: A one-cell parasite, Giardia is small but can have major impacts. Giardia will reside in the small intestine and cause improper absorption of nutrients, water, and electrolytes, which will in turn lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, weight loss, and dehydration. And to make matters worse, Giardia can also be spread from pets to infect humans (4).
Treating worms in dogs and cats
If it sounds like a lot of the symptoms are similar for different intestinal worms, it’s because they are! Since all of these internal parasites impact the gastrointestinal tract, they disrupt digestion and absorption of nutrients.
An important step in establishing gut health if you suspect your dog or cat may be infested with parasites is to deworm them to rid the intestines of the parasite. This should be done after consultation with your veterinarian, as they can help determine what parasites may be present and what medications will work best.
Probiotics for intestinal parasites in cats and dogs
Probiotics, such as Sacchromyces boulardii, can not only help re-establish a healthy microbiome after an animal has been infected with parasites, but may also be able to help prevent parasitic infection in the first place.
A healthy gut microbiome is a large contributor to an effective immune system, and therefore providing probiotics can help boost your animal’s immune system and allow them to better fight off any infection (5).
More specifically, S. boulardii in combination with medication has been shown to reduce the number of Giardia cysts in feces of infected patients even more so than medication alone (6).
Parasites come in many shapes and sizes and can occur in practically every pet. While we do our best with parasite control practices, it may still happen. Gastrointestinal parasites will negatively impact health by preventing proper digestion and absorption of nutrients.
If you suspect your pet may have a parasite it is best to visit with your vet to determine a treatment plan. Probiotics like S. boulardii can help promote a healthy gut, which may in turn boost the immune system and help prevent parasitic infection in both dogs and cats.