A client came to me the other day with a huge concern that she could possibly catch intestinal worms from her dog. Her puppy had vomited some worms in the middle of the night, and she cleaned it up, but the images of the squirming writhing helminths kept her up all night. The puppy had been known to
lick her on her face and sometimes near her lips and she wondered if it was possible that she could have
contracted the worms.
When I said it WAS indeed possible, well, she looked at me as if I had green hair. And tentacles.
Of course people can catch worms from their pets. We’ve known this since 1921 when a doctor by the name of Fülleborn began to wonder why he saw nodules containing the larvae of this parasite in human livers, kidneys, brain and lung. So he looked into it, and other doctors looked into it, and identified that these parasites were making their way through humans, and we, to this day, call it VISCERAL LARVAL MIGRANS (which means parasites traveling thru your gut).
My personal philosophy is that all puppies and kittens have worms until proven otherwise, and even then, they most likely have worms. Primarily I am talking about the Ascarid, or Roundworm, here in Southern California, but other areas of the country get to add in the Hookworm. In some ways it doesn’t matter, because all of our dewormers cover the Roundworm and the Hookworm.
Here is how the puppy and kitten contract the Roundworm. I’m keeping it short here, but Dr. Jay R. Georgi’s Parasitology for Veterinarians devotes an entertaining 7 pages to the various lifecycles that the Ascarid can employ. The Roundworm is happily and comfortably ensconced in a cyst in the dog or cat’s
muscle tissue. If the dog or cat is a female, and pregnant, then the hormones of pregnancy activate the worm and it migrates to the mammary tissue and gets transmitted to the newborn puppy and kitten as they nurse on the dam. The worms undergo a migration, called…..yes, VISCERAL LARVAL MIGRANS…and end up getting hacked up and swallowed, so yes, there is a period of time where the larvae are in the saliva. It is conceivable that this is a possible route of human infection, but generally we think of human exposure happening due to accidental ingestion of the parasite eggs, through exposure to animal feces
via gardening, for example. Sandboxes where children play should be covered up when not in use. Cats will use these as toileting areas, because (as Georgi so eloquently explains) “the light texture of the soil minimizes the labor of their little excavations.”
So that is why we, as veterinarians, advocate monthly deworming of puppies and kittens as we see them for their immunizations and early socialization visits. Monthly is an important word in that sentence. You must do the follow up dewormings because you need to kill those parasites that are undergoing the – (say it with me-, you’ve seen the phrase twice already)– VISCERAL LARVAL MIGRANS—and are going
to appear in the gut to cause re-infection in a month.
And it is so easy to deworm puppies and kittens, cats and dogs. We have a tasty vanilla cream liquid for the youngest and the tiniest, we have monthly pills that do us the favor of eliminating fleas and
preventing heartworms, we have a topical liquid for cats that is applied over the shoulder. It is so easy and so safe, that I cannot think of any reason NOT to deworm puppies and kittens. It is a procedure that protects your pet, yourself, and your children.
And people, can they be dewormed? Of course they can, with many of the same medications that we use in veterinary medicine (trust me, I was surprised when I learned that fact while working in a really rural part of the country). Naturally, anyone concerned that they may have worms should consult their
family physician. Dr. Georgi didn’t elaborate on human treatment, only the animal patients!