Old Challenges, New Guidelines

Parasites have long challenged animal and human health. But over the last decade, veterinary medicine has witnessed significant advances in parasite protection and control. Today, we have the knowledge and a wider range of products to treat and prevent common internal and external parasites in pets.

With these advances, one might think the challenges posed by parasites have been met. Yet, across the country, pets still suffer from parasites; nationwide, one survey showed 34 percent of dogs are infected with astrointestinal parasites, with up to 54 percent infected in southeastern states.1 Pet owners often fail to comply with veterinarians’ recommendations, and people—especially children—still contract zoonotic disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 1 and 3 million people are zoonotically infected with Toxocara larval migrans each year.2 In general, veterinary monitoring and prevention protocols vary wildly.

These challenges prompted the formation of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), an independent council of thought leaders representing parasitology, epidemiology, and veterinary and human medicine. CAPC’s mission is to foster animal and human health, while preserving the human-animal bond, through recommendations for the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and control of parasitic infections.

The Issues are Big

The issues CAPC members have been wrestling with are everyday concerns for veterinarians and are important both from an animal health and a human health standpoint. For instance, some strategic deworming recommendations targeted toward puppies and kittens are also designed to protect families from zoonotic infection. The guidelines explain how the CAPC recommendations for deworming and control will impact the health of both the animal and the family.

“Big picture” issues are addressed in our guidelines. For example, while veterinarians have been trained in environmental controls, this important aspect of parasite control is sometimes overlooked when they are faced with gastrointestinal parasite infections. Because treating the animal repeatedly with anthelmintics or antiprotozoal drugs only addresses part of the problem, the CAPC guidelines cover environmental stages, environmental transmission, decontamination and sanitation measures.

Much of my work at Purdue University has concentrated on parasitic zoonoses, especially zoonotic helminths. Many pet owners lack awareness of potential zoonoses associated with pets and wildlife, except perhaps for rabies and Lyme disease. Zoonotic diseases will continue to occur as humans have increasing contact with domestic and wild animals and their environments. Educating the pet-owning public about the health hazards posed by common zoonotic parasites is one of the most important aspects of prevention and control—and thus is a role CAPC has taken on.

By advocating safe and responsible pet ownership and a healthy respect for wildlife, veterinarians can—and must— play an important role in preventing zoonotic diseases caused by these parasites.

The Stakes are High

I see veterinarians becoming increasingly concerned about the legal aspects of dealing with animal diseases, particularly zoonotic diseases. Failing to counsel clients on a potential parasitic risk or improperly treating a diagnosed parasitic condition could result in legal ramifications.

CAPC has addressed this issue. With a standardized approach to strategic deworming protocols, prevention strategies, environmental decontamination and sanitation measures, the new guidelines provide a parasite management framework that can help veterinarians navigate liability concerns.

Veterinarians are in the best position to address zoonotic concerns with clients. For the most part, their human health counterparts lack training in this area and are more apt to recommend getting rid of a pet than taking simple precautionary steps to keep both the animal and family members healthy.

CAPC protocols, now and in the future

Our work over the last year and a half has focused primarily on developing guidelines pertaining to ascarids, hookworms and whipworms. With time, these guidelines will expand to address other parasites.

The CAPC guidelines will benefit the veterinary community by increasing the awareness of recommended solutions to parasite issues. We at CAPC believe this cognizance will extend to the wider medical community, further enhancing the health of pets and people.

These guidelines were initially released at the 2004 North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla.

1 Blagburn BL, et al. Comp Contin Educ Pract Vet 1996;18:483– 509.

2 Blacka J. Intestinal Parasites and Zoonotic Disease—Your Clients, Your Patients and Your Practice. Novartis Professional Services.