Protecting our pets protects public health
Just one in four dog and cat owners worm their pets as frequently as they should. They may not realise it, but they’re putting their own health at risk as well as that of their pet, writes Dr Paul Overgaauw.

Research shows that 75 per cent of dogs and cats in the Netherlands are vulnerable to a worm infection — leaving both animals and owners at risk of serious health problems. This and more is evident from research amongst Dutch pet owners by polling agency Ipsos, commissioned by Elanco.

What many people don’t know is that protecting pets from worms is in the interests of public health, not just animal health. This is because worm larvae can trek through the human body, causing a wide range of health problems – even damaging the liver, lungs, eyes and brain.

It’s a problem that’s exacerbated by the changes in climate we’re experiencing in The Netherlands and in other European countries. This means exotic worm species and other parasites (as well as their possible intermediate hosts) have become more common in our living environment.

What’s most frightening about this is that it places young children and people with reduced resistance – such as the elderly and pregnant women – at risk.

Our pets become infected with different worms if they come into contact with soil that contains eggs from infected faeces, or if they eat snails or prey animals.

But more than half of animal owners (62%) interviewed said they didn’t know the larvae of the dog and cat spindle worm can cause health problems in humans.

Children can be particularly vulnerable. If a roundworm-infected animal emits worm eggs, these eggs end up on the grass in gardens or parks where families relax and in the sandpit where children play.

Lack of owner understanding and an underestimation of the risks is a major cause of insufficient, irregular or even non-existent deworming.

Some 36 per cent of the respondents in the survey said they didn’t worry about worming periodically, because they’d never seen any worms in the stools of their pets before.

But we know it’s a common misconception that only in these cases is there a risk of infection. In fact, if worms are observed in the faeces, significant damage may already have been done to your pet.

Veterinarians play an important role supporting owners in the fight against worm infections. They can advise on the risk profile of the pet, determine if a worm infection has occurred and can explain the possible consequences.

So, for the sake of your health, your family’s health and that of your pet, talk to your vet.

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