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Can Your Cat or Dog Give You Parasites?

Our animals are our best companions, and the benefits of being a pet parent can't be overstated. But it's important to know that our furry family members can carry parasites that live just as easily in a human. In fact, the problem is more widespread than most people realize.

Here are the most common to know about:

Toxoplasmosis

Many people have been infected at one time with this microscopic parasite found in cat stool with no ill effects. But toxoplasmosis can be a serious issue if contracted during pregnancy, as it can cause irreversible birth defects in a fetus. Pregnant women who test negative for the parasite are advised to steer clear of cat litter and wash their hands well after handling any feline.

Symptoms and treatment: Symptoms range from mild and flu-like to none. Many people live with the infection without knowing they have it, though it can be serious in people with weakened immune systems. Toxoplasmosis requires treatment with a doctor-prescribed medication only in acute cases.

Roundworm

The most common type of parasitic infection, roundworms live in both dogs and cats, and are especially prevalent in kittens and puppies. Humans can easily contract the worms from handling or walking barefoot in soil contaminated with pet feces.

Symptoms: Cats and dogs with roundworm are often asymptomatic, but signs include big bellies, dull hair, vomiting and weight loss.

Prevention: Pets should be checked yearly by a vet, and kittens and puppies should be treated against the worms as much as once every two weeks. Children should never be permitted to play where pets may have contaminated the soil. Wear gloves when picking up cat or dog stool.

Hookworm

Both dogs and cats carry hookworms, especially when young. Just like roundworms, humans can easily contract the worms when eggs and larvae from your pet's stool contaminate soil in your yard.

Hazards and treatment: Hookworms can slow development in children and cause severe anemia in adults. The parasites can be killed with a prescribed medication from your doctor.

Prevention: Pets should be vaccinated and frequently de-wormed. Avoid walking barefoot or playing anywhere near where pets may have done their business.

Ringworm

Not actually a worm, this common fungal infection is easily transmitted to humans from both cats and dogs. Named for its red ring-like appearance, it is highly contagious from person to person, too.

Symptoms: In dogs or cats ringworm causes lesions as well as dry patchy areas and hair loss, mostly on the head, paws and limbs.

Treatment: Ringworm is easily treated in pets with a special shampoo and cream. Vets must do a test to be sure the infection is completely cleared up. In humans, an over-the-counter medicine is usually sufficient.

Regular vet check-ups are usually enough to keep your furry baby parasite free. When it comes to parasites, an ounce of prevention is absolutely worth a pound of cure.