Jim lives east of Toronto, where he writes and designs marketing material for small businesses. He can be reached at [email protected]"
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The question of whether or not your dog can give you worms (or any disease or infection, for that matter) is a very good one.
We give our dogs all manner of pills and tablets to help them ward off parasites, but we do nothing for ourselves. Is that because they’re not a problem for humans, or should we be more concerned?
Many Canine Diseases and Parasites Can Affect Humans.
There are a multitude of diseases that are able to move from animals, including domestic dogs, to humans. These are referred to as zoonotic diseases. The Plague, AIDS, and rabies are all examples of virulent diseases that began in the animal kingdom, but made the leap to humankind.
Our focus right now, however, is worms. Yes, there are types of worms that infect your dog which are able to cause discomfort and disease in humans. Though the effects aren’t always as dire as those of the conditions I mentioned above, they’re still not something you want to deal with.
Here’s a short (and also less nausea-inducing than most) video about worms in dogs:
The problem with canine worms gaining access to a human is the worms have no idea where to go. This may seem like a more of a problem for the worms than for the human, but the opposite is true. Because humans are not their usual home, the worms will head wherever they can rather than to their normal places. This can result in worms entering organs such as the liver, lungs, brain, and even the eyes.
What kinds of Worms Can Dogs Pass to Humans?
There are three kinds of canine worms that can make a home in a human host: roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. The first two are the most common culprits, but tapeworms can be contracted on rare occasions.
You have probably heard that ringworm can also be passed from animals to people. Ringworm, however, is not actually a worm, but a fungal infection.
If your dog has roundworms living in its intestines (and sometimes there are no outwards signs of an infestation), the eggs will be excreted in the dog’s feces. The eggs become infectious after two weeks, at which point they become a problem for people.
The eggs may stick to people’s hands or feet, or can even be ingested on occasion. They can also be passed directly from the dog to a person if the dog has transferred eggs from its anus to its mouth while cleaning itself.
Roundworms in the lungs may cause the host human to develop a nasty cough. An infection in the eye can potentially cause blindness. And roundworms in the intestines have the potential to wad up into a ball and cause a blockage. Long, stringy worms may become visible in the infected person’s stool, if the condition gets bad enough.
As with roundworms, hookworm eggs are found in dog feces. After about a week in the outdoors, the larvae hatch. If they come into contact with skin, they are able to latch on and burrow into the new host.
An itchy rash at the point of penetration is the most obvious of the symptoms of a hookworm infection. Winding red trails may also be visible as the worm eats a path for itself under the skin. Severe cases may cause diarrhea, and can lead to weight loss and anemia.
There are several types of tapeworm, but the kind that most commonly afflicts dogs is the flea tapeworm. As the name suggests, flea tapeworms are passed along to dogs if the dog ingests an infected flea. The same thing can happen to a person, though it’s rather rare.
Tapeworm infections often produce no noticeable symptoms. It may be possible to spot tapeworm segments (they break up into pieces) in stool as they are passed from the body. If symptoms are presented, they will usually take the form of digestive issues such as nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and weight loss.
Two other, less common species of tapeworm, Taenia and Echinococcus can also be contracted from eggs found in dog feces. These species can cause the formation of cysts in the body, typically in the lungs or the liver. Known as hydatid cysts, they have been known to measure a foot or more across.
How are Worms in Humans Treated?
Once diagnosed, an oral medicine can be prescribed, though surgery may be required in the case of a major infestation causing a blockage. Likewise, surgery may be necessary to remove any hydatid cysts.
The anti-parasite medicine will kill any worms living inside the body. The deceased worms then either disintegrate entirely, or are passed from the body via the stool.
An increase in iron intake will help with if anemia has developed. Other nutritional deficiencies can be dealt with by an appropriate change in diet.
Can Dog-to-Human Worm Transmission be Prevented?
The simplest way for a dog owner to avoid contracting worms is to make certain the dog doesn’t have them! Using a worm preventative medicine, such as Sentinel, is a highly effective way to ward off many kinds of worm infestations. A flea control regimen will help reduce the risk of flea-borne worms.
Maintaining a clean yard is a good way to prevent infection for both dogs and people. Keep your grass short, and not too damp. Do what you can to dissuade mice and other rodents from taking up residence, as they can carry worms. Standing water should be cleared away to prevent mosquitos from breeding, another worm vector.
When in your yard, don’t walk in bare feet, and prevent children from rolling around in the grass. Don’t allow feces to sit in the yard for too long. When picking up dog feces, use gloves, a plastic bag, or a scoop of some sort. Avoid direct contact with dog feces!
Raw meat is also a potential source of worms. Never allow your dog to kill and eat another animal, and keep it away from any carrion that it comes across. If you feed your dog meat, make certain it’s thoroughly cooked.
It’s always a good idea to wash your hands after playing with your dog, and children should be encouraged to do the same. Kids are notorious for putting their hands in or near their mouths, so they are at greater risk for infection.
Keeping your dog healthy and maintaining good personal hygiene should be all you need to avoid contracting worms. If you do suspect you have worms, see your doctor as soon as possible. Treatment is simple and effective.
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