Hidden from view, the intestinal parasites of our pets don't share the spotlight given to fleas or even mosquitoes. In fact, many pet owners would just as soon forget that their pets could be carrying these "worms." But, failing to account for these nasty creatures could pose a danger to your pet and the rest of your family!

Pets share our homes, our kitchens, and, in some cases, even our beds. Unfortunately, they might also be sharing some unwanted guests — WORMS! Unlike fleas and mosquitoes that sometimes give us a break during colder weather, these parasites can cause problems all year long!

Most people don't realize it, but puppies and kittens can be born with roundworms, hookworms or both. In the vast majority of cases, these worms are passed from mom to the babies either during pregnancy or during nursing after birth. Left unchecked, these tiny monsters can cause poor growth, diarrhea, vomiting, or even death in young animals.

Adult pets aren't immune to these parasites either. Pets who consume other animals' feces, eat grass, or even those who catch and eat infected rodents might end up with bloody, runny stool or vomiting caused by the worms.

But beyond their immediate effects on the animals, there is an even more sinister side to these pests. Both roundworms and hookworms are zoonotic, meaning that they can be passed to humans. Children are especially susceptible and can suffer blindness, seizures or organ dysfunction.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC, estimates that almost 14 percent of the U.S. population is infected with roundworms. That's nearly 40 million people! Why aren't we aware of this danger?

The answer lies in the life cycle of these parasites. After the larval worms make their way to the puppies' digestive tract, they mature into adults over a three-week period. Adult female worms begin shedding enormous numbers of eggs into the environment. It's not unusual for more than 200,000 eggs to be shed every single day.

Now, imagine a mother dog with a litter of nine puppies. Including mom's contribution, even if each pup had only one female worm, more than two million eggs are being deposited daily into the yard where the puppies and your kids, play. Multiply that by the number of days until the pups get an initial de-worming and you can see why this is a problem.

Roundworm eggs are very hardy, able to survive for about two years in the environment. This makes places such as dog parks or other areas where dogs roam, potential danger zones for becoming infested. Dogs can even pick up roundworm eggs during the winter time. Hookworms are not common in our arid environment.

Due to the prevalence of these worms in our pets, the Companion Animal Parasite Council ( www.petsandparasites.org ) recently has developed "strategic de-worming" protocols as a means to help protect both people and pets. In addition, pet owners are urged to use monthly heartworm prevention products that contain medication to control these intestinal parasites. Both dogs and cats should take these products every month, all year round. It's a safe and easy way to protect the whole family.

Parents should teach children to wash their hands after playing with the pets or playing in the yard where pets defecate. It's also a good idea to check your pet's stool sample routinely. We recommend all puppies and kittens be checked upon adoption and any new adult pet that is introduced into your household. Additionally all adult pets should be tested annually.

Playing it safe and following your veterinarian's guidelines for de-worming and testing could mean that you can share a much longer, healthier life together.

Dr. Darren Woodson has practiced veterinary medicine in the Farmington area for more than 28 years and has a passion for educating pet owners. If you have a question you would like him to address, email dwoodson@valleyvetpet.com. Please understand Dr. Woodson will choose the questions that are most relevant to our readers.