The Importance of Keeping Your Pets Free of Parasites

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There are over 1,000 different species of parasites that can invade the bodies of our pets where they cause pain, discomfort, disease, and sometimes even death.

What is a parasite? The dictionary states that a parasite is a plant or animal that lives in or on another plant or animal at the expense of that host. We most commonly think of parasites as “worms,” and there are many kinds, but parasites may also include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa, which are single celled organisms. The list of parasites also include lice, ticks, fleas, and even insects. Parasites can invade every part of the bodies of our pets, including every organ, the muscles, the intestinal tract, and even the brain. Many parasites consume the food in the digestive tract that was intended for the pet, which leaves the scraps for the pet. Obviously this can cause a serious nutritional deficiency in the animal in some cases and a drain on the bodies of all infested pets.

Symptoms of parasite infestation in pets include: a dull, lusterless coat, distended abdomen, stunted growth, bad breath, bowel gas, gum disease often with dental problems, runny nose, crusty eyes, skin problems, allergies, poor weight control, respiratory problems, low energy, diarrhea, constipation, anemia, vomiting, poor appetite, and restlessness. Sometimes parasites can be present without any visible symptoms, yet they still continue to be a hazard to the health of the pet. Some parasites feed on the blood of your pet, a cause of anemia. As a point of interest, seeing a dog drag its bottom along the ground or on a rug is not necessarily a sign of parasites. It simply indicates that its anal glands are bothering it and likely need emptying or are infected.

It is often difficult to diagnose all the parasites in our pets. It is possible to diagnose only about 20% of those present. Even though it may not be possible to diagnose the presence of parasites, they are likely still there. Pets may also transmit parasites to humans and they commonly do. There are 240 different diseases transmissible from animals to humans worldwide: 65 from dogs, 39 from cats,  35 from horses. Some of the precautions that you as a pet owner should take to help reduce this risk to you and your family are:

1. Put pet feces in the garbage, not the garden.
2. Clean up pet waste promptly.
3. Do not compost fecal material.
4. Wash your hands well after handling pets, cages, etc., and always before you eat.
5. Don’t clean your pets’ cages, dishes or utensils in the kitchen sink; use laundry tubs.
6. Pregnant women should not clean a cat litter box.
7. Don’t kiss pets on the mouth or allow them to share food/drink from your containers.
8. Don’t let pets lick your face.
9. Cook meats and fish well.
10. Wash all food that is washable.
11. Wash hands before handling food.
12. Wash and disinfect your kitchen after meat and poultry preparation.
13. Be wary about eating sushi.  (Sushi often contains raw fish which is a common host for several parasites, especially tapeworms.)
14. Look after the health of your pets.
15. De-worm your pets regularly with safe, reliable, quality products.

Many commercially available de-worming medicines contain fairly toxic chemicals that may have bad side effects. It is better to use herbal products that do not produce such harsh effects. You may have to give them a little longer to work, but the outcome of the treatment is better for the pet. There are several herbs that are used in de-worming formulas. Some of the most effective herbs are listed below:

Betel Nut (Areca catechu) – has a dramatic effect against tapeworms, pinworms, hookworms, roundworms, fasciolopsis, and blood flukes. It also acts as a mild laxative that helps to expel parasites from the intestinal tract.

Cloves (Eugenia aryophyllata) – a culinary herb effective against roundworms and also kills parasite eggs.

Garlic (Allium sativum) – another culinary herb effective against hookworms, pinworms, ringworm (which is a fungus not a worm), and amoebae. It is generally used in combination with Areca catechu and Polyporus mylittae for hookworms and pinworms.

Green Hulled Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) – effective against tapeworms, ringworm and pinworms.

Mint (Mentha sativa) – increases the motility of the gastrointestinal tract which helps to expel the parasites.

Pumpkin Seed (Curcubita pepo or C. moschata) – effective against tapeworms and roundworms. It is very effective in the treatment of schistosomiasis as it kills young schistosomes.

Rangoon Creeper (Quisqualis indica) – the fruit and seeds kill parasites especially roundworms; improves splenic function, reduces abdominal distention and stimulates the appetite.

Rhizoma rhei – effective against schistosomiasis and acts as a mild laxative which helps expel parasites and toxins from the intestinal tract.

Thick-Stemmed Wood Fern or Shield Fern (Dryopteris crassirhizoma) – kills intestinal tapeworms, roundworms, and hookworms. Helps to control internal bleeding.

Torreya Seeds (Torreya grandis) – kills parasites, especially tapeworms, pinworms, hookworms and roundworms. It also has a slight laxative effect.

De-worming products that contain at least some of these herbs will be effective in removing parasites from your pets without resorting to drugs. Use the products at the proper recommended dosage and for the suggested length of time. And remember, it is recommended to consult a licensed animal health practitioner before administering any products to your pet.


Dr. Rick Axelson graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in 1987. He apprenticed with his father, Dr. Dean Axelson, founder of The Links Road Animal & Bird Clinic (1973) until he purchased the hospital in January 1996. Rick grew up in Toronto and still lives in north Toronto with his daughter and cat. He has been surrounded by animals of all shapes and sizes his entire life but has a special passion for birds and exotic species. He is a member of the College of Ontario Veterinarians, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), Ontario Veterinary Medical Association (OVMA), Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians (AEMV) and Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV). Rick has lectured to veterinarians, veterinary technicians, the Ontario Veterinary College, local parrot clubs and numerous community groups. He has appeared on local and national television and radio shows. He is the author of a veterinary education handout series for birds and exotic pets for Lifelearn Inc. Rick passionately enjoys photography and has a camera with him most everywhere he goes. He is an avid bird watcher, hiker and loves to spend time gardening in the backyard. Fitness and being outdoors is a must. For more information, visit You can contact the clinic at (416) 223-1165 or email them at

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