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Animal Parasites: How they can affect humans

Parasites in Animals

Animal Parasites? What are they?

Animal parasites can affect their host organism in a number of ways. Fist and foremost, parasites are likely to cause some type of physical trauma to the animal due to their migration within the body. Tissue destruction, tissue displacement, ulceration of the liver, and intestinal wall damage are all possible results of animal parasitic infection. Once in the body, animal parasites generally leach nutrients such as vitamins and essential minerals. This nutrient loss can result in severe vitamin deficiencies, anemia, and weight loss.

Finally, animal parasites excrete toxins in the body that may lead to a number of symptoms such as swelling, heart problems, digestive disorders, blurred vision, joint pain, and sleep problems.

How Are Animal Parasites Transmitted?

Parasites can move from one animal or human to the next via several pathways. The most common method of infection is the consumption of contaminated food or water. Parasites can be transmitted via insect bites, through direct contact with the skin, other animal feces, or water where these organisms are present.

Types of Animal Parasites

Animal parasites are generally allocated into three categories: ectoparasites, endoparasites and hyperparasites.

  • Ectoparasites — An ectoparasite lives and feeds on the surface of its host. Ticks, fleas, and lice are examples of animal parasites in this category.
  • Endoparasites — An endoparasite lives and feeds inside the body of its host. Roundworms that live in the digestive system, or blood parasites that live in the lymphatic system are two common examples of internal animal parasites.
  • Hyperparasite — A hyperparasite is the term used to describe a parasite that resides within another parasite. For example, the larvae of tapeworm can be found in fleas before they are transmitted to animals or humans.

Do Parasites in Animals Affect Humans?

There are roughly four hundred different species of parasites that are known to infect humans. Some of these harmful organisms may live in the human body for months or even years causing no noticeable symptoms.

While others may immediately cause itchy rashes, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and sleep disturbances. If left undetected, parasites may continue to multiply in the body, ultimately causing symptoms that mimic conditions such as diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease and even cancer.

Animal Parasitism

Parasitism is a type of symbiotic relationship between two living animals. Any plant, animal, or organism that is involved in an intimate relationship with another living organism of a different species is said to be in a symbiotic relationship. Here are various types of symbiosis, including phoresis, commensalism, mutualism, predation, and parasitism. In order to understand animal parasites and relationships, it’s important to take a closer look at each of these categories.

  • Phoresis — This type of animal relationship is said to occur when one organism relies on another to be physically carried from one destination to the next. For example, a bacteria, fungus, or eggs may need to be carried by a larger organism.
  • Commensalism — A commensal animal relationship benefits one partner without affecting the other. It is very important that the other organism is neither helped nor harmed. This type of relationship is very unusual and may not even actually exist in nature. One possible example is the relationship between remoras and sharks.
  • Mutualism — A mutualistic animal relationship occurs when both partners depend upon one another for their mutual benefit. This type of relationship is found often in nature, such as algae and fungus that work together to form lichen, and bacteria that are present in the gut to aid in digestion.
  • Predation — In a predatory animal relationship, one member of the pair benefits, while the other is harmed and usually eaten. There are numerous examples of predatory relationships that exist in nature, such as bears and fish, or birds and worms.
  • Parasitism — A parasitic relationship describes the relationship that exists when one organism, called the parasite, lives in or on another organism, called the host, at the expense of the host. Parasites can be found throughout nature living in animal, plant, and human hosts. Parasitism is noted as the most successful way to live in nature. In fact, more than eighty percent of all species of organisms are parasites. Parasitology is the study of the relationship between a parasite and its host.

How to Prevent Animal Parasites

The best way to treat parasites is to make sure they never enter the animal in the first place. Grooming and proper hygiene are very important in halting the transmission of animal parasites. Be sure to wash the animal, bedding, and your hands frequently especially before eating, and after using the toilet.

Click here to learn more about dog parasites and cat parasites.

by Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DABFM

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