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Roundworms in Dogs and Cats and the emerging Risk from Raccoons

Written by Rhonda Downie, DVM.



It is very common for puppies and kittens to actually be born with worms. Roundworms are the most common and their name is Toxocara. Even if the mother dog or cat is free of worms, the puppies and kittens can obtain the worms before birth because of a process called transplacental larval migration.

Dogs and cats that have previously had worms can have cystic forms of the larvae (immature worms), which will migrate into the unborn puppies and kittens during the pregnancy. It is for this reason that all puppies and kittens are recommended to have several wormings by the breeders, humane societies and veterinarians when they are very young. Veterinarians also will check their stool with a fecal exam, which is test to determine if there are worm eggs in the stool. Puppies and kittens can become sick from these worms and the eggs in the stool can get into the soil and live for many years to reinfect other dogs and cats




Adult dogs and cats can be infected with roundworms. Roundworms eggs can be in the soil where other dogs and cats have been. These worm eggs can live for years in the soil. The dirt can attach to their feet and when they groom and lick their feet. This is why it is very important for dog owners to pick up their dogs stools. Roundworms can be prevented in your dogs and cats that go outdoors by giving a monthly worming prevention that are combined with the heartworm prevention. A yearly fecal test is recommended to make sure the dogs are worm free.




Besides the health of your pets, an important reason to keep your pet free of parasites is the potential risk to people and especially children. If children accidentally ingest dog feces or dirt that has been contaminated with roundworm eggs, they can potentially get a serious disease called Visceral Larval Migrans. People will not get the actual intestinal worms, but the worm larvae may migrate thru the lungs, liver, brain and other organs. This can cause flu-like symptoms but also can be potentially fatal in some individuals. There have been many documented cases of children becoming very ill from this condition. The worm larva can also get into eyes, which can cause blindness. This is called Ocular Larval Migrans. Public health officials are aware of this risk to people and children and this is one of the main reasons they want people to pick up the feces of their dogs. Children are more at risk because of the tendency to put things in their mouth. Veterinarians are also aware of this risk and that is why it is strongly recommended to use a monthly parasite prevention for your pets. A monthly parasite prevention will not only protect your pets but also the people and children in your home.




A newly emerging risk to dogs and people is the roundworms that infected raccoons. This roundworm is called Baylisascaris. Many wild raccoons are infected with this parasite. The eggs are also left in the soil and live for many years. Raccoons tend to place their feces in latrines or congregated areas. Raccoons are becoming more plentiful even in urban areas. The worm larvae is even more dangerous to people and other animals because the larvae are very large and can cause much more damage to organs and the brain. In recent years there have been cases of children having fatal cases of this condition especially when the larvae migrate through the brains.



Dogs can also develop this worm in their intestines and can have the fatal migrating larval form. The monthly parasite prevention given by veterinarian to prevent the regular dog roundworm will also prevent your dog from getting the raccoon roundworm. There is no cure the migrating larval form and it is usually fatal. There are no known cases of this in cats but is has been seen in chicken, quail, guinea pigs, pheasants, rabbits, dogs, rodents, porcupines, chinchillas, prairie dogs, primates, woodchucks, foxes and weasels.



This parasite is becoming more common as the raccoon is becoming more common in recent years especially in more urban areas. Public health officials recommend using garbage cans that are raccoon proof and keeping pet food inside. In general, do not keep any source of food available for raccoons to ensure that they do not congregate near your home. Children should be taught the importance of hand washing and to stay away from outdoor feces.

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