Roundworms are intestinal parasites that are frequently found in both dogs and cats. They are probably the most commonly diagnosed intestinal parasite seen in our canine and feline pets. They are particularly common in puppies and kittens, though mature dogs and cats can get them as well. Roundworms are sometimes also called ascarids.
Roundworms are of concern not only because they can infect our pets but because they can infect people as well. Children are at the highest risk of infection with roundworms.
How Are Roundworms Passed from Pets to People?
Roundworms are passed through ingestion of soil or water contaminated with roundworm eggs. The roundworm eggs found in fresh feces have not usually developed to the point where they can infect a person. As a result, contact with fresh feces is generally not a major means of transmission of roundworms. The eggs require 30 days to mature to the point where they can cause infection.
Visceral Larval Migrans in People
When a person becomes infected with roundworms, the disease is termed visceral larval migrans. Visceral larval migrans is a serious disease and is particularly dangerous for children. Children typically become infected by putting their dirty fingers in their mouth.
The most common roundworms found in pets are called Toxocara cati (cats), Toxocara canis (dogs) and Toxocara leonina (dogs and cats). However, raccoons frequently are infected with a roundworm known as Baylisascaris procyonis. All four of these species can infect people.
Protect Your Family from Roundworm Infection
There are several measures you can take to protect yourself and your family from roundworm infections.
- Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. Make sure your children do as well.
- Do not eat unwashed fruits or vegetables.
- Cover any sandboxes your children play in when not in use. Sandboxes tend to attract cats, who use them as litter boxes.
- Consider wearing gloves when gardening or working in soil. Wash your hands thoroughly after working with soil and before handling any meat or other foods.
- Cook all meat thoroughly.
- Avoid drinking water that may be contaminated with animal waste.
- Make sure your children wash their hands thoroughly after playing in the dirt and keep them away from areas contaminated with pet waste, if possible.
- Have your pet's feces checked regularly for parasites. Medicate as necessary to rid your pet of any intestinal parasites. Puppies and kittens are routinely wormed at a young age due to the high incidence of roundworms and hookworms in young animals and the risk of transmissal of these parasites to people. Worming can begin as early as 2 weeks of age. Consult your veterinarian for advice about choosing the proper medication.