No dog owner wants to think about their beloved four-legged friend having worms making themselves at home in their internal organs. However, understanding the risks, symptoms and treatment options for worms in dogs is critical to keeping your dog healthy and free of parasites that can have a negative impact on their health.
Left untreated, various types of worms, including heartworms, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms and whipworms - can lead to serious health issues. Dogs can contract worms from animal feces and become infected before passing them on to other dogs. Humans can even pick up certain types of worms - one reason it's important to always clean up your dog's poop.
Today, our member vets will share what you need to know about common types of dog worms, signs that your pooch might have them, and what to do if your dog has worms.
Symptoms of Worms in Dogs
While each parasite will have different effects on a dog's system, here are some general warning signs that dog owners should beware of. Intestinal worms can cause:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Poor coat appearance
- Pneumonia or intestinal blockage
- Blood in stool (bright red or darker purple)
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Pot-bellied appearance
Along with these symptoms, you may notice respiratory symptoms such as intolerance for exercise, weak pulse, coughing and abdominal distension and weight loss if your dog has heartworms. In extreme cases, they may experience pale gums and labored breathing. Heartworms can even be fatal in a dog.
Common Types of Worms in Dogs
Heartworms, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms and whipworms are common types of worms found in dogs.
The most preventable type of worms in dogs is also the most worrisome. Transmitted via mosquitoes, this parasite grows and multiples within the heart, causing organ damage, severe lung disease and heart failure. Left untreated, untreated heartworms can lead to fatal complications, Coyotes, foxes, wolves and dogs can be carriers.
Since mosquitoes are impossible to avoid in most cases, our vets recommend regular heartworm preventives to help your dog stay safe.
Because treatment is lengthy, expensive and can have severe side effects, prevention is the best approach when it comes to heartworms. Treating heartworm in dogs also typically requires exercise restrictions and confinement, which can be difficult for dogs and owners alike. Regular testing is recommended since heartworm preventives don't kill adult heartworms. They can even harm a dog that's already infected.
These intestinal parasites can cause anemia and may become fatal in puppies if left untreated. Dogs can fall ill due to several different kinds of hookworms. Though they are very small (about an eighth of an inch), they ingest large amounts of blood when they attach to the wall of a dog's intestine.
Dogs can get hookworms by ingesting hookworm larvae from the environment. In the case of Ancylostoma caninum, a mother dog can pass infective larvae to her puppies through her milk. Hundreds of microscopic eggs can be found in the stool of infected dogs, hatch and stay alive in soil for as long as several months. If a dog eats infected dirt, sniffs infected dog feces or licks it from the bottom of its paws, it can pick up hookworms. Humans can also get them.
A veterinarian can diagnose hookworms by performing a test called fecal flotation, a microscopic example of a stool sample. The stool is mixed with a solution that will cause hookworm eggs to float to the top. Deworming medications can be used to treat the parasite and should usually be given twice - once to catch adult worms and then 2 to 4 weeks later to kill newly developed worms.
Another common intestinal worm in dogs, there are actually two types of roundworms: Toxocara canis (T. canis) and Toxascaris leonina. T. canis is more common in puppies and can be transmitted to humans.
Because many newborn puppies have roundworms, it's important that pups receive appropriate veterinary care. Your vet can use a fecal sample to diagnose roundworms and treat them with deworming medications. Left untreated, this parasite can lead to poor growth and death in severe cases.
The raccoon roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis) is a rarer type of roundworm that's found in parts of North America. Dogs can ingest infected eggs or infected hosts such as birds, rabbits or rodents. Because eggs can spread from animals to humans, it's critical that infections be diagnosed promptly and that treatment is administered immediately and effectively.
Dogs can contract this intestinal parasite by eating infected fleas or by consuming wild animals infected with fleas or tapeworms. Once a dog eats the flea, the tapeworm's egg hatches and sticks to the dog's intestinal lining. The most common type of tapeworm found in dogs in the United States is Dipylidium caninum. Because it can be passed to dogs from fleas, this is one more reason to stay on top of flea prevention.
Tapeworm segments can be passed in a dog's stool. If they are visible, they may resemble little pieces of rice. Some infected dogs may scoot their bottoms along the ground. If you notice scooting or see signs of tapeworm in your dog's stool, take a stool sample to your vet to be analyzed.
If tapeworm segments or eggs are found, your vet can prescribe a treatment regimen to eliminate tapeworms. Drugs can be injected or administered orally. Fleas will also need to be eliminated from your dog and home environment.
Whipworms live in the beginning of a dog's larges intestine (cecum) and colon, where eggs can be passed into the dog's feces. A dog can get whipworms by ingesting an infested substance such as feces, animal flesh, water, soil or food.
Eggs can survive for up to five years in moist warm environments. In mild cases, you typically won't see symptoms. However, severe cases can cause symptoms such as weight loss, diarrhea, inflammation and occasionally anemia.
Dogs can be diagnosed with whipworms when your vet takes a fecal sample, bug false negatives are not common as eggs are not easy to find on all samples. If you see blood in your dog's stool, repeat fecal exams are recommended. Often, three monthly treatments will be prescribed by your vet.
For prevention, cleaning up after your dog is vital to health and sanitation.
How to Diagnose Worms in Dogs
While we can often see tapeworms in a dog's stool, vets must usually diagnose other types of intestinal worms by performing a microscopic examination of a stool sample to look for eggs. If your dog shows any signs listed above, your veterinarian will request a stool sample so they can detect or rule out worms as a trigger for the symptoms. Even if your pooch is not displaying any symptoms, it's wise to take a stool sample to your vet when you bring your dog in for an annual examination.
We will usually use a blood test to detect heartworms. That said, in some cases a radiograph, echocardiogram or ultrasound will be needed. In the early stages of heartworm disease, many dogs show no symptoms or few symptoms, yet receiving treatment as early as possible increases the chance it will be successful. This is why it's a good idea to have your pup tested annually for heartworms.
When it comes to intestinal worms in dogs, flea control, regular testing, prevention and good hygiene are the principles to keep. in mind. Your veterinarian can recommend deworming medications to treat various types of heartworms and intestinal parasites, along with preventive medications. Since puppies are vulnerable to contracting heartworms via their mother's milk, they should also have regular stool testing.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.