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Internal parasites are one of the most common problems encountered in animal husbandry, including livestock and household pets. In my experience, worms can quickly become a serious issue – living in a warm climate unfortunately means that the little worms are practically a year-round nuisance.
Whether you use contemporary or natural dewormers, prevention and vigilant monitoring of parasites is key. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get rid of all parasites completely without keeping your animals isolated in a glass bubble. Instead, I’m learning that the ideal goal is to have a farm that maintains only small, easily controlled internal parasites that healthy animals can develop immunity against without suffering any ill effects.
The sheer number of different internal parasites, even the ones that only attack the gastrointestinal tracts, is staggering. Just flipping through an illustrated book about them gives me the heebie-jeebies. They really are everywhere. The good news is that not all worms are bad, and in fact, many of them are beneficial to some animals’ digestive systems, helping to break down food and prevent other worms from taking over.
Below are two of the most common parasitic worm types, which are certainly NOT beneficial in any way:
Flatworm/Tapeworm (platyhelminthes): The flat tapeworm can be found in all mammals and less commonly in birds. When passed, they appear to be white, flattened grains of rice. These small “worms” are actually segments of a much larger worm living inside the animal’s intestine. The parasites spread through infested feces and even by swallowing a host flea (cats and dogs often get tapeworms this way). Tapeworms are not usually a problem for grazers such as cattle, but they can compound an existing problem with other parasites, such as the fluke flatworm.
Roundworm (nematodes): There are many different species of roundworm, which can infest mammals and birds. Roundworms were a real problem in my chicken flock a while back, but these worms are also a common issue for grazers, cats, and dogs.
A holistic approach towards parasite control with a focus on prevention is a much easier and more effective tactic than using dewormers every time an infestation causes problems. Careful management of hygiene alone can go a long way in preventing a problem before it has a chance to get out of hand. Below are some simple guidelines.
Keep Everything Clean and Dry: Moist and warm environments are where parasitic worms can be found in greatest numbers. Carefully manage animal pens, stalls, and pastures to prevent worm hot-spots by fixing water leaks, isolating infested animals, and properly disposing of expelled worms. Try to keep animals away from large puddles, swampy areas, and manure piles.
Avoid Overcrowding: Animals kept in overcrowded conditions are exposed to more manure and to each other, allowing parasite populations to grow out of control very easily. Make sure that all animal enclosures are large enough, and don’t expand your herd or flock if there isn’t enough space to do so.
Integrate Different Animals: Keeping only one species together in a pen or pasture can be efficient, but it also invites parasite outbreaks, since it makes it so easy for a species-specific worm to spread. Mixing it up out in the pasture with goats, llamas, cows, or other compatible livestock together is an easy and effective way to keep the parasite population down.
Building Immunity: Our animals, when healthy, can fight off many internal parasites they come in contact with without any problems. This ability seems to grow as the animal gets older though, so newborn and young animals of all species are most susceptible.
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Even when we do everything in our power to prevent an outbreak, a parasite infestation will probably happen now and again. It’s important to note that every situation is different, and there is a huge selection of deworming products available. Even natural dewormers can be toxic to our animals, so it’s necessary to use only the recommended dose. Always check with your local veterinarian before attempting any treatment, especially for young, pregnant, nursing, and weakened animals.
Conventional dewormers for tapeworm and other flatworm infestations include closantel, oxyclosanide and rafoxanide, among many others that may be combined with antibiotics, laxatives, and other ingredients. In doses too large, they can cause more harm than good and can even kill very young animals.
Conventional dewormers for roundworms include anthelmintics, benzimidazoles and Agri-Mectin products. Some roundworms have started to show drug resistance lately, especially in sheep, so follow up carefully to check on their effectiveness. Like treatments for tapeworms, these dewormers can be toxic when used inappropriately.
There are many effective synthetic dewormer products out there, so why forgo the pharmaceuticals and try natural remedies?
- To avoid worrying about drug residues in meat, milk, and eggs
- Increased drug-resistance to conventional dewormers
- To avoid killing off non-target species (beneficial organisms in the digestive tract)
- To save money by avoiding expensive drugs
- To maintain an organic farm
Botanicals: Many different botanicals exist that can help get rid of parasites, including garlic, goosefoot, pine, ginger, and wormwood. Other helpful plants include fennel and mustard. Some farmers also use pyrethrum – a chrysanthemum extract that is toxic to both internal and external parasites. Many of these make nice additions to a garden or flower bed. For more information on growing, harvesting, and using herbs, Tammi Hartung’s book Homegrown Herbs provides the definitive guide to planting, growing, harvesting, and using more than 100 herbs.
Tobacco: Ground tobacco, such as what’s found in chewing tobacco cans, is becoming a popular natural parasite remedy. It is very easy to make a homemade dewormer using chewing tobacco, and there are owners who claim it has worked wonders on all their animals, including sheep, horses, cattle, chickens, and even dogs and cats.
A word of caution though — tobacco contains nicotine, which can be very poisonous. In small doses, it harms only the worms, but in doses too large, it can make our animals very ill and even cause death. Be very careful when using tobacco, and if you’re not willing to take the risk, consider using a natural, tobacco-based product, and be sure to consult your veterinarian on the appropriate dose.
Other Treatments: Other natural and household wormer treatments include diatomaceous earth, copper sulphate, and charcoal.
While we may never get rid of those icky internal parasites completely, it is at least possible to control their presence and effect on our animals. Try to use a holistic approach by using both preventative and treatment remedies in order to achieve a balance of healthy animals and a parasite population that is as insignificant as possible.