Although you may have difficulty imagining that your perfect little bundle of cuteness is harboring a gross parasite, intestinal worms, or other single-celled protozoa, these pests are common in puppies and kittens. Fortunately, you need not panic, because our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team can easily identify, treat, and prevent parasites in your tiny furry pal. 

Common intestinal parasites in puppies and kittens

Depending on the parasite species and its life stage, some of these pests may be visible in an affected pet’s vomit, feces, or fur, while others are invisible to the naked eye. The most common parasites in puppies and kittens include:

  • Roundworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Hookworms
  • Whipworms
  • Coccidia 

Despite their microscopic appearance, these parasites can make puppies and kittens extremely sick by causing dehydration, malnutrition, or anemia (i.e., low red blood cells). Left untreated, severe infections and the resulting complications can cause an affected pet to die.

Intestinal parasite transmission routes in puppies and kittens

Puppies and kittens are natural parasite hosts because they can inherit some infections from their mothers across the placenta or while nursing. These young pets also have immature immune systems that allow infections to take hold easily. In addition, because puppies and kittens explore their environments by tasting and ingesting unfamiliar and potentially contaminated materials (e.g., those containing infected fecal matter, fleas), their disease exposure risk increases. 

Parasitic infection signs in puppies and kittens

Intestinal parasite infections often trigger an affected pet’s unpleasant gastrointestinal (GI) signs, which may be the only indication that a puppy or kitten has an internal problem. However, your pet may have visible worms that resemble spaghetti or rice grains, and you may see them around your pet’s rectum, in the hair on their back legs, in their stool or vomit, or on their bedding. Remember, worms aren’t always apparent or being actively shed in a pet’s stool. Therefore, GI signs may be the only indication that a puppy or kitten has a parasitic infection. Alternatively, a pet with a mild infection may show no signs but test positive on a fecal screening test performed by our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team. A puppy’s or kitten’s parasitic infection signs may include:

  • Diarrhea that may contain blood or mucus
  • Loose or watery stool
  • Vomiting
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Dull coat
  • Scooting
  • Pale gums

Because of their small size and juvenile immune systems, puppies and kittens can experience rapid health decline if they develop a severe parasitic infection. If your pet exhibits any signs indicating they have parasites, seek prompt veterinary care. Early treatment is more successful, affordable, and less invasive for your affected puppy or kitten.

Zoonotic risks: Parasites that you can contract from your pet

Intestinal parasites can also impact your health and the health of you and your family, as your pet can transmit some parasite species to people (i.e., zoonotic infection). If your pet has been infected, they shed roundworms and hookworm eggs in their stool and vomit, transmitting these parasites by the fecal-oral route (e.g., you clean up after your pet and then touch your face or eat a snack). Hookworm eggs can survive in soil for prolonged periods and can infect humans through the skin (i.e., transcutaneous). This route can occur when people walk barefoot in a contaminated yard or when children play in uncovered sandboxes where cats have eliminated. 

Protect yourself and your family from zoonotic disease by always washing your hands after interacting with any pet and handling their waste or supplies. Speak with your primary physician if you are concerned about the possible zoonotic infection.

Treatment for intestinal parasites in puppies and kittens

If your puppy or kitten is not experiencing significant illness, such as dehydration or anemia, our veterinary team will prescribe oral deworming medication. Follow the label directions and give all the medication to ensure the treatment is effective. In addition, as your pet clears the infection, they will pass infective parasite eggs in their stool, so promptly pick up and appropriately dispose of waste to reduce a zoonotic transmission risk. 

If your puppy or kitten is clinically ill, hospitalization may be necessary to provide intravenous (IV) fluids, nutrition, and medication. Recheck fecal testing will be necessary after your pet’s treatment to ensure they’ve cleared the infection.

Preventing intestinal parasites in puppies and kittens

Because many puppies and kittens are infected with roundworms or hookworms in the womb or immediately after they have been born, our team recommends early fecal testing and routine deworming to treat transplacental and transmammary infections. However, because pets do not continuously shed parasites, we also recommend bringing a small stool sample to each puppy or kitten appointment to ensure your pet is parasite-free. Additional parasite preventive measures include:

  • Removing pet waste and keeping pet yards and litter boxes clean 
  • Avoiding crowded areas where unfamiliar pets gather
  • Having your pet’s stool tested for parasites at least once a year
  • Administering monthly heartworm preventives that include a broad spectrum dewormer and year-round veterinarian-recommended flea preventives

Intestinal parasites are something no puppy or kitten owner wants to think about, but ignoring these microscopic nuisances can have serious consequences for your pet’s health and the health of you and your family. If you have additional questions about parasites and your pet, contact our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team.