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Keep kids and pets free from parasites
MISSISSIPPI STATE – When the school bell rings for the last time, many children have furry friends eagerly awaiting summertime outdoor adventures. Proper veterinary care and good hygiene can help keep pets and kids parasite-free.
“As we spend time outdoors, we expose ourselves to fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and internal parasites, such as hookworms, roundworms and tapeworms more frequently,” said Dr. Jody Ray, assistant clinical professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University.
Ray said as children play outside, they can contract parasites from contaminated soil.
“Infected animals that defecate on the beach or in the sandbox can leave behind parasites that can burrow into the skin or be ingested when a child eats dirt or gets sand in his or her mouth,” he said. “These intestinal parasites are easily controlled with most monthly heartworm preventives.”
Ray said children are at a higher risk for contracting zoonotic diseases -- those that can be transmitted from animals to humans -- because of their play habits and love for pets.
Giardiasis is a common parasitic disease with higher infection rates in the summer.
“It is spread by ingesting food or water contaminated by defecation from an infected animal or person – so campers, people who swim in ponds or kiddie pools accessible to animals, travelers and child-care workers are at a higher risk,” he said.
Ray said families can take several precautions against zoonotic diseases.
“Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them,” he said. “Cover the sand box when it is not in use. Remove feces from the home and backyard, and use proper hygiene when handling it. Wash hands properly. Do not allow pets to roam freely because they can come into contact with infected animals. In Mississippi, keep your pets on heartworm prevention as well as flea and tick control every 30 days year-round.
“Use insect repellant liberally when in flea- or tick-infested areas. Shower thoroughly and check for ticks after being outside. Keep grass cut short for better flea control,” he said.
Dr. Reggie Little, a private practitioner at Animal Medical Center in Starkville, said proper prevention and treatment for parasites impacts a pet’s entire lifespan.
“Puppies and kittens get intestinal worms primarily by nursing an infected mother or via ingestion of contaminated fecal material,” he said. “When we see puppies and kittens in the office, we start deworming them at 3 weeks of age and giving them their vaccinations at 6 weeks of age. We continue with vaccinations every 2 to 3 weeks until they’ve gotten their full set of immunizations. Every time they come in, we’re giving them some type of wormer or preventive to get rid of the intestinal parasites and to start preventives.”
In areas with warm winters, pets need year-round heartworm preventives and flea and tick prevention.
Little said owners are troubled when their pets get tapeworms, a common intestinal parasite animals encounter.
“What owners may not realize is that tapeworm infections most commonly happen via their pets’ ingestion of an infected flea and not from direct exposure to tapeworms,” Little said. “That is why flea prevention is needed to help reduce flea numbers, and consequently help reduce tapeworm infections.
Little said heartworm disease, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is a very serious problem in dogs and cats, but it is preventable and inexpensive to treat.
“We dispense heartworm preventives in the form of chewable pills or topical applications given once a month that prevent not only heartworms, but intestinal parasites too,” he said. “For your pet’s sake, treat for heartworms throughout the year. Heartworms live in the right side of the heart which can lead to many devastating problems for your dogs and cats.”
Little said ticks are problematic external parasites that can cause a variety of issues from local skin infections to systemic tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, Ehrlichia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
“Pets and humans can acquire these diseases, which gives owners another great reason to use year-round flea and tick preventives,” he said.
Little recommends twice-a-year visits to the veterinarian to check a pet’s health and to catch problems early.
“I’d like to see pet owners take a proactive role instead of a reactive role,” he said. “We do this at our clinic by offering twice-a-year examinations. We check for heartworms and internal parasites, and we examine the pet from head to toe looking for any possible ongoing or future problems such as heart and lung issues, skin problems, dental issues and even early detection of many cancers.
“Prevention is the key and can lead to a longer and healthier life for your pet,” he said.