Zoonotic Intestinal Parasites

A child pets a dog standing on stairs.

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A zoonotic disease is one that can be passed from pets to people. People often worry about the possibility of infection for themselves or family when a pet is diagnosed with intestinal parasites, such as worms. Unfortunately, this concern is valid, as several intestinal parasites are considered to be zoonoses.

Roundworms

Roundworms, more properly known as ascarids, are one of the most common intestinal parasites seen in both dogs and cats. Many—if not most—puppies and kittens are born with roundworms. They do, however, have the potential to be passed to people, and children are at highest risk for infection with roundworms.

Hookworms

Hookworms are another commonly seen parasite in dogs and cats. They also are a zoonotic parasite and can be passed from pets to people.

Tapeworms

Tapeworms also are considered to be a zoonotic parasite. However, they are typically not passed directly from pets to people, even though dogs and cats are commonly infected with them.

To infect a dog or cat, tapeworms require an intermediate host, which is usually a flea or a small prey animal that is ingested. The intermediate host is also necessary for the transmission of tapeworms to people, and dogs and cats do not serve as intermediate hosts. However, eating uncooked meat or fish that is infected can pass certain types of tapeworms to people.

Trichinella

Trichinella spiralis is another intestinal parasite that can infect people. However, dogs in the United States are seldom the cause of trichinosis (infection with T. spiralis) in people. This disease is transmitted only by eating undercooked meat infected with the parasite, most often pork or game.

Giardia

Another intestinal parasite that can be passed from people to pets is Giardia. Giardia is different from many other intestinal parasites because it's a protozoan, or a single-celled organism, rather than a worm. Nevertheless, it can infect puppies, dogs, and cats and can also potentially be passed to people.

Toxoplasma

Toxoplasma gondii, the cause of toxoplasmosis, is a parasite that is frequently found in cats. It can also infect people and can be quite serious under certain circumstances, particularly for a pregnant woman and her fetus. T. gondii is also a protozoan parasite and not a worm. However, pregnant women can take precautions to prevent toxoplasmosis by making sure their food is properly handled.

How Intestinal Parasites Are Passed From Animals to People

Intestinal parasites can be passed to people in several different ways. The primary means of transmission depends on the type of parasite.

  • Some intestinal parasites can be passed to people through the ingestion of feces from infected animals or ingestion of contaminated soil or water. Examples include roundworms, hookworms, Giardia, and Toxoplasma.
  • Some can be passed when the larvae of the parasite contact uncovered skin. Hookworms can be transmitted this way.
  • Other intestinal parasites are transmitted by eating uncooked or uncooked meat that is infected. Certain types of tapeworms, as well as Trichinella, can be passed in this fashion.

Fortunately, in most cases, infection with zoonotic intestinal parasites can be avoided by taking simple precautions like practicing good hygiene and making sure all meat is cooked thoroughly before eating.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.