Yes, humans can contract worms from cats and dogs, including roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms. Here’s what you need to know.
Can I catch worms from my cat or dog?
Most of us worm our pets to save them from discomfort – but it’s also essential for reducing the risk to us. Here’s our guide to the parasites your cat or dog could catch and how you can reduce the risks to you and your family.
Humans can pick up roundworms from a variety of places, so it’s important to know where they are most prevalent and to follow up with good hygiene practices. Following ingestion of roundworm eggs, the larvae hatch, and migrate around the body causing organ damage, such as blindness and respiratory failure. Here are a few places you could pick up roundworms:
From puppies and kittens
A single roundworm can produce 250,000 eggs per day. Puppies can be infected in utero, and puppies and kittens can be infected through their mother’s milk when suckling. Remember to wash your hands well after handling puppies and kittens, and worm them following the product label, to help eliminate these parasites.
From pet waste
Roundworms can cause disease in humans if we unknowingly eat the microscopic eggs that infected dogs and cats shed in their faeces. Always use a bag to collect your pets’ waste, and regularly pick up the poo in the backyard to help limit the potential spread of parasites. Always wash your hands after handling dog or cat poo.
From the soil
Roundworm eggs can survive in soil for years. People can come into contact with them during gardening, and young children are at risk of infection if they play outside in the dirt and don’t wash their hands afterwards. Roundworm eggs in the soil can also stick to your pet’s fur, especially if your dog or cat loves to dig, so always wash hands after patting your pet.
Tapeworms are segmented worms that live in the intestine. Small egg-filled segments break off and are passed out in your pet’s faeces. These segments are not alive, but remain mobile for some time. If your pet has tapeworms, you may see tiny white segments that look like grains of rice crawling around their back end or in their faeces.
Dogs and cats can become infected with tapeworms by swallowing infected fleas, while hunting or scavenging, or when eating uncooked meat or offal. Symptoms of flea tapeworm infection in dogs include an itchy bottom, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Humans can also be infected with the flea tapeworm if they accidentally consume an infected flea (e.g. after patting their flea-infested dog or cat). Certain species of tapeworm can also cause something called “hydatid disease” in people, where cysts grow in organs and cause serious disease and can potentially be fatal. Hydatid disease is difficult to treat and control, so reducing the likelihood of exposure by treating your dog, preventing your dog scavenging and maintaining good hygiene practices is very important.
Pets can pick up hookworms by eating the larvae from the soil, or by the larvae penetrating the skin, or if they eat an infected rodent or bird. Symptoms of hookworms aren’t common in adult pets, but can be much more serious in young dogs and can include diarrhoea, lethargy and anaemia, and even death.
Hookworm can also affect people. If we walk across a contaminated area in bare feet, the larvae can burrow into our skin and cause irritation and itching. Wear shoes outside wherever possible to reduce the risk of a hookworm infection. Ingestion of larvae is also possible.
Dealing with worms
Pet owners can choose from range of worming products, including spot-on treatments, such as Advocate. Worm your adult pets at least every three months to control intestinal worms, and help to prevent human infections.