Roundworms (Toxacara canis, Toxocara leonina, Toxocara cati) are the most common intestinal parasite diagnosed here at River Road Veterinary Clinic. They are large, thin, round, and easy to see with the naked eye (although they are not always passed in the feces) with an average size of 3-6 inches. Unlike other intestinal parasites such as Hookworms, Roundworms do not attach to the intestines and instead take their nutrients from free-floating bits of partially digested food. Both cats and dogs are susceptible o these nematodes or Ascarids as they are sometimes called.
Symptoms of roundworms can include a pot-bellied appearance, abdominal discomfort, poor growth, poor haircoat, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, or a decreased appetite. Roundworms do not typically cause harm to healthy, adult dogs and cats and many animals do not show any symptoms of infection. Large numbers of these intestinal parasites, however can cause problems for small kittens, puppies and debilitated or sick adult animals.
Roundworms are most commonly acquired by sniffing or ingesting fecal matter that contains roundworm eggs. Rodents, birds, roaches and earthworms also carry immature roundworms that will mature inside your dog or cat if they hunt and eat the intermediate host animals. The lifecycle of roundworms can be very complicated and involves the migration of the immature larvae through several different tissues and organs. Roundworms are capable of encysting within your pet’s body and continuing their migration to the intestines to finish maturing at a later date. This usually occurs when an animal becomes pregnant- allowing the roundworms to be transmitted across the placenta to the puppies or kittens as well as through the mother’s milk.
Roundworms are diagnosed by identifying eggs shed in the feces. A small fresh fecal sample should be brought to the clinic where it is mixed with a special solution that encourages parasite eggs to float to the top and adhere to a slide. The slide is then examined under a microscope and the Roundworm eggs are identified by a veterinary technician. It is important to note that just because Roundworms are present does not mean that enough eggs will be shed to be detected on a fecal sample.
Roundworm treatment consists of an oral liquid dewormer. This dewormer kills only adult worms and must be given again 2-3 weeks after the initial treatment to ensure that all parasites are killed. Treating your pet’s environment is equally as important since infective roundworm larvae can remain in the environment for a considerable amount of time. Thoroughly cleaning all surfaces in your home as well as picking up all feces outside and cleaning the litter box as soon as possible will help to minimize the possibility for reinfection.
In order to prevent Roundworm infestations prophylactic deworming of all puppies, kittens, and nursing mothers is recommended. Routine deworming and fecal tests are also recommended throughout the life of your dog or cat. Good hygiene and sanitation with the prompt removal of all stool from the yard or litter box as well as rodent control drastically reduces the chance for infection. Revolution and Heartgard are also effective preventative medications that can be given monthly.
Roundworms can pose a health risk for people, especially children. Migrating larvae can encyst in various organs and cause liver disease or blindness. Clinical infection can also occur if a large number of eggs are ingested. Up to 10,000 cases of roundworm infection occur every year in the United States. Strict hygiene including hand washing and the removal of feces should be followed in order to prevent potential problems.