As a dog owner, there are certain uncomfortable realities you must face. You will often be forced to clean up after your dog’s bodily functions, such as that vomit episode when Fido ate your favorite pair of wool socks, or the pee and poop incident of Christmas ’12 when Radar was left for five minutes longer than his normal three-hour window. Shoes will get chewed, faces licked, and all kinds of inappropriate grooming of private parts will generally occur in your near vicinity.
While human owners don’t exactly look forward to any of these scenarios, we generally accept them as part of the price of owning and being loved by a canine companion. What owners don’t realize is that in addition to a soggy tennis ball or toy dropped into your lap, your dog may also pass along certain diseases or infections. Of these, worms are some of the most common conditions that can potentially be passed from dogs to humans. If your dog has been diagnosed with a parasite infection, there are a few things you should know to help protect yourself and your family.
What Are “Worms” Anyway?
When we’re talking worms, we mean one of a variety of parasitic infections by organisms that invade, eat, and reproduce within your dog’s digestive tract. Roundworms are long, spaghetti noodle-shaped worms that grow up to seven inches long. Hookworms are much smaller but have microscopic teeth that help them latch onto the walls of the small intestine. Tapeworms are between six and 24 inches in length and can have segments that break off and will often appear around your dog’s rectum.
Each of these types of parasitic worms are zoonotic in nature. This means that the infection can spread between humans to dogs or vice versa. Most worms are spread when humans ingest the feces of an infected dog. While this may seem improbable, worm eggs can start off as microscopic and contamination typically occurs after handling an infected pet’s feces, such as when picking up after Fido in the park, and then failing to properly wash up. Worms can cause a host of annoying and, in some cases, life-threatening issues for both dog and owner. Weight loss, malnutrition, and gastrointestinal issues are all common signs of an infestation of parasitic worms.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Now that we’ve got the scary stuff out of the way, the good news is that both cross-contamination and infection are easily preventable. Human owners should practice good personal hygiene after coming into contact with dog feces. A thorough handwashing with soap and water is usually good enough to kill off any creepy crawlers or their easily-portable eggs. Avoid eating food after handling feces or in areas where dogs frequently potty and be sure to caution young children against playing in these areas as well.
In addition to hygiene, keeping your pet from coming down with worms in the first place is a sure-fire way to prevent contamination from canine to human. There are a variety of worm preventative medicines that can be administered orally on a regular schedule. When you take your dog for their regular vet checkup, be sure to ask for an oral de-wormer to be administered. Finally, avoid letting your dog interact with strange, stray, or unhygienic animals that may pass along worms or other diseases. These strategies will keep both the two and four-legged members of your family happy and healthy.
The Wormy Bottom Line
While humans are able to contract worms from infected dogs, there are plenty of steps people can take to avoid zoonotic contamination. Practicing good hygiene after interacting with your pooch will help to prevent the spread of worms of all kinds. Furthermore, pet owners should regularly treat their dogs for worms and administer preventative medication at the direction of a vet. With these steps in mind, dog owners can get back to the business of loving on their dog and spend less time worrying over their pet as a potential health concern for human family members.