Australians might be a nation of dog and cat lovers, but many pet owners are ignorant of the debilitating effects parasitic worms can have on human and pet health, revealed in a nationwide Newspoll survey.
In extreme, but rare cases, untreated infestations of some species of worms in humans can cause death(1) or blindness(2). Infested pets, especially puppies and kittens, can also die if they are not wormed(3).
A nationwide Newspoll survey of 1,225 Australian households in June 2012 and uncovered some surprising findings about pet owners and their ideas about illnesses caused by these intestinal invaders.
The results of the survey conducted by Novartis Animal Health showed that seven out of 10 were aware that intestinal worms could be passed from animal to humans yet there was some uncertainty surrounding symptoms.
A simple cough can be a warning sign of worm infestation in humans, yet only 15 per cent of dog and cat owners who participated in the survey were aware this symptom could be an indicator of worms. 36 per cent did not think a cough could be linked to worms while 49 per cent could not say.
Pet owning parents or guardians with children (63 per cent) said a quarter of their offspring had been infected by worms passed on from pets and 75 per cent were aware that their children having itchy bottoms were a symptom of worms.
Overall, 75 per cent of respondents knew about the itching, while 63 per cent understood that weight loss was an indicator; 55 per cent, diarrhoea; 37 per cent, excessive tiredness and 32 per cent, a fever.
Dr Geoff Wilson, Veterinarian Director at Greencross Vets in Robina, Queensland said pet owners had become more exposed to zoonotic disease (the spreading of internal parasites from pets to family) because they were âhumanisingâ their pets.
âIt is not uncommon for untreated worms to be passed from pet to owner. Owners let their pets lick their face frequently and allow them to sleep in or on their beds instead of outside in a kennel,â he said.
âItâs easy for children, playing in sand or dirt where infested pets have been, to pick up the eggs in their fingernails and pass them into their body when they put their hands in their mouth,â he said.
âThe best remedy is to ensure pets are given regular worming tablets to combat roundworm, tapeworm and hookworm. While there are a number of tablets available, products like MilbemaxÂ® only need to be taken once every three months,â Wilson said.
Of the cat owners who responded to the poll 21 per cent said their cat has had intestinal worms while 16 per cent of dog-owners have experienced the problem.
The first signs of infestation in cats and dogs are usually pot bellies, lethargy, poor growth, unhealthy looking coats and diarrhoea. Tapeworms can cause animals to âscootâ along Viagra the ground to relieve anal irritation(3).
Pet owners treating their cats and dogs for worms conceded in the survey that it was often not an easy task to get them to take their tablet.
Half of the dog and cat owners polled said they had needed to force feed a worming tablet to their pet while 44 per cent had to hide the tablet in their dog or catâs food, only to find they ate around it
A further 37 per cent had endured their pet spitting out a tablet upon discovering it in the food bowl and 29 per cent said their pet refused to eat food that has a worming tablet hidden inside it.
Around one in 10 had asked their vet to administer worming treatments because they were unable to do it themselves.
Survey results at a glance
A land of pet lovers
â¢ 43 per cent of Australian households surveyed have a dog, and 25 per cent have a cat
â¢ Less than half (45 per cent) have neither
â¢ Women are much more likely to have a pet dog or cat (60 per cent) than men (51 per cent) as are people with children (63 per cent) than those without (50 per cent)
â¢ As would be expected those living in regional areas are more likely to have a dog or cat (61 per cent) than big city dwellers (52 per cent)
â¢ 21 per cent of cat-owners say their cat has had intestinal worms while 16 per cent of dog-owners have experienced the problem
â¢ Half of dog and cat owners have had to force feed a worming tablet to their pet, 44per cent have hidden the tablet in their food only to find the dog or cat ate around it, 37 per cent have had their pet spit out the tablet upon discovery and 29 per cent have seen their pet refuse to eat food that has a worming tablet hidden inside
â¢ Around one in ten (11 per cent) had had to get a vet to administer worming treatments because they were unable to do it themselves
Worms in humans
â¢ Of those surveyed with children, a quarter (24 per cent) claim their offspring have suffered from worms
â¢ Seven out of ten are aware that intestinal worms can be passed from animal to human and this awareness is more prevalent amongst women and people living outside of the big cities
â¢ 75 per cent believe an itchy bottom is a sign that someone has worms, 63 per cent believe weight loss is an indicator, 55 per cent cite diarrhoea, 37 per cent excessive tiredness, 32 per cent a fever and 15 per cent a cough
â¢ A significant number of people either believe these symptoms of worms are incorrect or have no idea.
â¢ In general women are more likely than men to accurately identify the signs of worms in humans