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Intestinal parasites are commonly seen in puppies and kittens, and less commonly in adult dogs and cats. The most common parasites are: roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, coccidian, and a protozoal organism called Giardia. In the majority of the cases, puppies and kittens contract roundworms and tapeworms from their mother around the time of birth. With the exception of tapeworms and coccidian, the other parasites have zoonotic potential, meaning they are transmissible to people through fecal ingestion. These parasites are easily transmitted between pets via infected feces, with the exception of tapeworms, which are spread by the ingestion of infected fleas.

The most common clinical signs of intestinal parasites include diarrhea, weight loss, general loss of thriftiness, and occasionally vomiting. Puppies and kittens with roundworms may have a "potbellied" appearance. Signs are more common in puppies and kittens and those pets that are generally "unhealthy." Hookworms can cause anemia, which can be fatal in puppies and kittens and "unhealthy" pets. Whipworms and Giardia, which are very difficult to detect on routine fecal examinations, unlike other parasites, can be the cause of unexplained chronic weight loss and diarrhea.

Because the parasites can be present without clinical signs, and because the parasites can be transmitted to other pets and people, regular fecal examinations (at least twice yearly) are recommended by most veterinarians and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Additionally, most veterinarians and the CDC recommend regular deworming of puppies and kittens up to approximately three to four months of age, as most, if not all, have been exposed to roundworms and hookworms.

Principal Natural Treatments For Intestinal Parasites

Garlic contains a number of nutrients and a number of sulfur compounds that have been shown to have medicinal qualities, especially allicin and alliin. Raw garlic can kill a wide variety of microorganisms by direct contact, including fungi, bacteria, viruses, and protozoa.

Garlic is recommended for pets with tapeworms; it has shown effectiveness in treating people with roundworms and hookworms and is often recommended for dogs and cats with these or other parasites.

When used for infections and possibly parasite control, the "allicin potential" of the garlic compound used is important. Since allicin is an unstable compound that is easily destroyed, fresh garlic or products with an identified allicin potential should be used when garlic is chosen for treating infections. Because it is hard to know if a prepared formula has the guaranteed amount of allicin listed on the label unless the product comes from a reputable manufacturer, many herbalists recommend using fresh garlic cloves when the allicin content is important.

Safety Issues
Too much garlic can be toxic to pets, causing Heinz body anemia. As a rule, follow label directions for commercially prepared products such as those recommended for flea control, and for feeding fresh garlic: one clove per 10 to 30 pounds of body weight per day. There does not appear to be any animal toxicity studies on the most commonly used form of garlic: powdered garlic standardized to alliin content.

Garlic should not be used in pets with anemia. Do not use in pets scheduled for surgery due to the possibility of increased bleeding times, (refrain from use at least one week before and one week after surgery).

Garlic may cause excessive intestinal gas; reduce the dosage if this occurs.

Taking garlic at the same time as taking ginkgo or high-dose vitamin E might conceivably cause a risk of bleeding problems.

Other Natural Treatments
Treatments for deworming pets include the herbs black walnut, German chamomile, garlic, goldenseal, licorice, Oregon grape, wormwood, yarrow, yucca, pumpkin seeds (a 50 percent kill rate of tapeworms), digestive enzymes, reishi mushrooms, and homeopathics filix mas, nat phos, and chenopodium.

These can be used in conjunction with conventional therapies as needed. The natural treatments are widely used with variable success but have not been thoroughly investigated and proven at this time. As with any condition, the most healthful natural diet will improve the pet's overall health.

Conventional Therapy
Conventional therapies for intestinal parasites involve the use of any of several medications, including pyrantel pamoate, febendazole, metronidazole, and praziquantel.

In the past, deworming medications were quite toxic and often caused severe clinical signs such as vomiting and diarrhea in pets treated with these medications. The currently used deworming medications are quite safe and usually 100 percent effective when used correctly, by following the correct deworming protocol. As a result, many holistic doctors use them for treating pets with intestinal parasites, as they are effective and often safer than other deworming options, such as some of the commonly recommended herbal deworming products wormwood and black walnut.

Shawn Messonnier, DVM

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Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!

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