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While advancements in sanitation and food processing have mitigated many foodborne illnesses, parasitic infections remain a concern within the modern food chain. This issue extends not only to livestock raised for human consumption but also the food we feed our dogs and cats.

With today’s focus on preventative medicine, the average pet parent can now mail in stool and fur samples without the involvement of their vet. Many times clients come to me with multiple tests that include and are not limited to:

  • Microbiome tests
  • Allergy tests
  • Hair and tissue mineral analysis tests

And while all of these diagnostics have a place, the first tests you should have done would be those that your vet can do which include:

  • Parasite test (twice a year)
  • Bloodwork (one to two times a year)

Occams Razor

Occam’s razor is in reference to a philosophy where if you are in a place where you have competing principles, oftentimes the correct answer is found in the most simple one.

I encourage all of my clients to have a strong relationship with their vet and to be able to establish trust so that open dialogue can occur both ways.

Veterinarians have fulfilled the requirements to practice animal medicine as well as demonstrated their competency by having an active license.

They should always be your first stop when you need medical advice regarding your animal.

And while I am honored that you may ask me to help you with a recipe, it does not by any means replace the care your dog would get under a veterinarian.

Dogs live very different lives than we do. Their nose constantly explores different smells on walks, licking bushes, fire hydrants and lamposts that other dogs have urinated on, or they may be found eating feces belong to cats, rabbits, squirrels, ducks, iguanas or even stool that belongs to dogs while on their walks.

We cannot deny that this behavior exposes them to various parasites and this doesn’t even take into account any food-borne parasites they may be exposed to due to the various types of diets, treats, and chews they eat.

Parasite Testing

At a minimum dogs should be brought in for parasite testing at least twice a year. Parasites are constantly evolving and your veterinarian team stays up to date with the latest technology to detect an infestation.

A fecal PCR test, also known as a Fecal PCR Panel, is a diagnostic test used to identify pathogens in stool samples. It stands for fecal (referring to the stool sample), PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction, a technique used to amplify genetic material).

Here’s a breakdown of what the test does:

  • Analyzes stool: A stool sample is collected and used for the test.
  • Targets pathogens: The test uses PCR technology to identify the presence of specific DNA or RNA from pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
  • Highly sensitive: PCR is a very sensitive technique, meaning it can detect even small amounts of pathogen genetic material.
  • Broad range: Fecal PCR panels can test for a wide range of pathogens simultaneously, depending on the specific panel used.

Here are some applications of fecal PCR tests:

  • Diagnose diarrhea: It can help identify the cause of diarrhea, which can be caused by various pathogens.
  • Detect specific infections: It can be used to specifically diagnose infections like Giardia, Cryptosporidium, or specific bacterial infections.
  • Monitor treatment: It can be used to monitor the effectiveness of treatment for parasitic or bacterial infections.

Whenever I have any dogs with diarrhea, allergies, or acid reflux come to me, I ask the dog parent to first see their vet to rule out parasites.

This is a short list of symptoms that warrant a vet visit:

  • Diarrhea (acute and chronic)
  • Alternating patterns of diarrhea and constipation
  • Pattern of diarrhea that happens once a month
  • Pica (stool eating)
  • Acid regurgitation or vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Lethargy
  • Inappetance or increased appetite even after they have been fed
  • Noise sensitivity
  • Allergy symptoms
  • Scooting of the rear end
  • Chewing at the anal area
  • Chewing toes, and paws
  • Fur loss
  • Dirt eating
  • Floor licking
  • Weight loss or failure to thrive

In some cases, these are all signs of pinworms, roundworms, tapeworms and even protozoa from cats (toxoplasmosis). In some rare cases, I’ve seen dogs with babesia, infestation of mites, or mange.

Nothing will ever replace a hands-on examination by your veterinarian and no amount of natural parasitic food or herbs will eradicate parasites from your dog.

I’ve also seen where you might think your dog has “pancreatitis” when instead more in-depth testing discovers a bacterial infection caused by worms.

Food-borne parasites

Zoonotic foodborne parasites pose a complex challenge due to their intricate life cycles, involving multiple hosts and environmental stages. In our global economy our meat at our local grocery store, or even places like Costco often comes from countries such as S. America or Asia.

  • Livestock as Intermediate Hosts: Parasites can primarily be transmitted through the consumption of livestock (“farm to fork”). Examples include:
    • Meat-borne parasites: Taenia spp. (tapeworms), Trichinella spp. (roundworms), and Toxoplasma gondii (a protozoan). These parasites establish stages within livestock like cattle and pigs, ultimately reaching humans upon meat consumption. When we feed raw food, we expose our dogs to these parasites.
  • Beyond Meat: Fasciola spp., a liver fluke, is an example of a zoonotic parasite that infects livestock but reaches humans via contaminated vegetables or water. This case highlights the broader “farm to fork” risk posed by parasites beyond just meat products.
  • Wildlife Reservoir: Parasites like Trichinella spp. and Toxoplasma gondii can be found in wild animals, with potential transmission to humans and dogs when we are out in nature.
  • Fish as a Source of Infection: Fsh-borne parasites (“pond/ocean/freshwater to fork”), exemplified by Clonorchis spp., Opisthorchis spp., and Anisakidae. These parasites infect fish species and pose a risk, particularly with the growing popularity of raw and undercooked fish consumption.

Risks Involved When Buying Raw Meat

Raw dog food companies often times will instill a “kill step” to kill of any bacteria prior to selling their dog food. Not all companies do this and you as the dog parent should decide if this is important to you.

For those who buy their meat at the local grocery store, raw meat can have low levels of e-coli or salmonella but this is allowed in the human food supply chain because it is assumed that this meat will be cooked. Feeding cooked versus raw food will decrease exposure to bacteria and parasites if you have doubts about feeding raw. I always tell my clients that the difference between cooked and raw food is minimal. For those of us who formulate, we can balance a diet to make sure it meets AAFCO’s standards using programs from Animal Diet Formulator.

And it goes without saying that you should have a very strong grasp of what it means to handle raw meat safely for your own food and that of your dog’s. A parasite like Toxoplasma infects more than two billion people worldwide. This parasite not only infects humans it infects our animals too. When these parasites are dormant they will hide in the intermediate hosts in the brain and choroid-retinal region of the eye and then move to the intestinal linings of their hosts.

Gentle food-based anti-parasitics may decrease the burden but your dog may need medical intervention if they have a worm or parasite infestation.

And beyond what we see in food, the environment is a source of dormant parasites. Hookworms present in soil can stay dormant for years and may only become a problem when the immune system is compromised or the load is more than the dog (or human) can bear.

Key Takeaways

Testing for internal parasites in companion animals continues to evolve. Bringing your dog in for routine examinations is a good precautionary measure and certainly, an exam by your vet to rule out any health concerns should be part of your dog’s wellness program.


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Author Biography

Hannah Zulueta obtained her Certificate in Canine Nutrition from CASI Institute. She is also studying for her Doctorate in Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Herbalism from the esteemed Pacific College of Health and Medicine.

She resides in San Diego with her three dogs, Maggie, Orbit, and Mr. Higgins.

She is available for one on one consultations. Additionally, you can find her sharing free content on Instagram.

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