Dog worms are internal parasites a majority of pups will experience at one point or another. They can be a major health risk if not discovered and treated, so it is important to educate yourself on the prominent types of worms your dog may be exposed to. It doesn't matter if you have a small dog like a Teddy Bear puppy
or a big old Mastiff
. Worms are a huge health threat to any dog. The four major parasites are:
- Tapeworms, and
Each type of worm has unique characteristics. Some are lethal only to puppies, while others are also a major problem for adult dogs.
Perhaps the biggest health risk with dog worms is they are simply difficult to diagnose. By the time you notice them in the feces of your pup or through visible symptoms, the worms have already spread throughout the pup's system. For puppies, this
can mean death a majority of the time. For adult dogs, the odds are better unless the problem is heartworms. Regardless, all of these parasites invade the body and rob it of the ability to function correctly.
The good news is most of these parasites can be eliminated with medical treatments. Let's take a closer look at each so you know what they are, what symptoms to look for and the potential course of treatment for each.
Roundworms are by far the most common type of parasite a dog will experience. Technically known as Ascarids, these worms live in the stomach and intestines. They can grow to 7 inches in length and a female can lay a staggering 200,000 eggs a day. This makes major infestations a serious problem. Mothers will often pass the parasite to their pups during the pregnancy period, which stunts the growth of the puppy prior to and after birth. A puppy with roundworms will typically show the following signs:
- Scrawny appearance
- Swollen belly
- Dull, colorless coat of hair
- Shortness of breath
- Blood in the stool
- Worms in the stool or vomit
Roundworms can kill a puppy. Puppies are inherently weak when born and their immune system is not yet up to snuff. The roundworms represent two threats to the pup. First, they can migrate into the intestines and lungs of the puppy where they cause damage by bursting and scarring critical air sacs. Second, the worms can attach in the intestines and rob the puppy of critical nutrients, which inhibits physical and mental growth. The biggest problem typically ends up being malnourishment, which makes the puppy susceptible to other infections and diseases that can prove fatal.
Dogs develop a resistance to roundworms as they mature, so these worms are not a major health risk for adults. This doesn't mean the dog should not be treated for the parasite. It should, but most dog owners don't even realize the pup has them since there are few identifiable symptoms. This is just one more reason to take your dog for an annual checkup with the vet.
You can find roundworm treatments at your local pet store. Don't bother with them. While they can be partially effective, any treatment for worms is useless unless it eradicates every single worm. Given this, the best approach is to ask your vet to prescribe medications such as Nemex and Strongid. The medications will wipeout the roundworm, which will be noticeable when you pickup your pet's poop. Trust me, the worms will make the process nasty and thoroughly disgusting!
If ever there was a parasite named correctly, it is the hookworm. These worms are about a quarter of an inch long and found in warm, humid areas. They have a mouth with three sets of teeth the worm uses to "hook" the wall of your dog's intestine. The worm then sucks out blood and nutrients, which can leave a dog malnourished and suffering from anemia.
How do pups get hookworms? The mother can transfer this parasite to the puppies in the womb, but dogs tend to pick the bug up from their external environment. When infected animals poop, they worms are transferred to the environment where they wait for a new animal to come along.
- Does your dog eat grass? Grass in warm, humid climates often has hookworm infestations.
- Does your dog eat…poop? If the other animal producing the feces has hookworms, they will transfer to your pup.
- In some cases, dogs can step on hookworms which burrow into the pup's body through their feet.
What are signs your dog may be suffering from hookworms? They tend to include:
- Weight loss
Hookworms can kill a puppy. If you have a sick puppy, you need to get to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Puppies are weak, so worms and other illnesses can quickly overwhelm their immunity systems. Nothing is more emotionally taxing than watching a devilishly cute puppy fade away, so don't procrastinate.
If there is good news with hookworms, it is that they don't represent a major health risk to adult dogs. While they will rob your dog of nutrients and weaken them a bit, the chances of hookworms killing an adult dog are next to none.
Treating hookworms requires a visit to the vet. After verifying the presence of these worms, the vet will most likely prescribe one of the following drugs to kill it off:
- Drontal Plus
The medication will need to be given in cycles. The first cycle should kill off the adult worms. However, the worms will leave eggs behind that can take as long as 10 days to produce larvae, which requires the second treatment course. If the vet directions are followed to a "T", the worm should be wiped out and your pup will be happy and energetic once again.
Dipylidium caninum, better known as tapeworms, are nasty little buggers. Fortunately, they are probably the least dangerous of the dog worms, but this doesn't mean you can ignore them.
Tapeworms can be as small as a quarter inch and as long as a couple feet. Yes, feet. These worms are often described as ribbon like in appearance. While that may sound quaint, these worms are nasty because they have a unique survival trait. If you don't kill their head, they regenerate. Yes, even if their head is the only thing left in your pup, they will grow an entirely new body.
Tapeworms get into dogs through flea and lice bites. Once in the pup, they migrate to the intestines where they connect to the wall. Much like hookworms, they then suck blood and nutrients out of the intestine. This leaves the dog malnourished and susceptible to other diseases and illnesses.
Diagnosing tapeworms is very difficult. Fecal exams are the typical approach, but tapeworms do not produce eggs every day so exams spread out across multiple days are typically required for an accurate diagnosis. You can sometimes identify the parasite by seeing it crawling around the rectal area of your pup. It will look like a piece of rice. Yes, very nasty.
Getting rid of tapeworms requires very strong medications. Remember, the head must be killed or the worms will regenerate. You will need to see a vet who will prescribe medications such as:
- Drontal Plus
Any of these medications should handle the problem. To prevent these dog worms from returning, you need to follow up the treatment with a strong program of flea and lice elimination. If they yard is infested with fleas, your dog is going soon have another tapeworm problem if not something worse.
Dirofilaria immitis, better known as the heartworm, is about as serious as it gets with dog worms. An infestation can kill both a puppy and adult dog. The worm can grow to 14 inches long and lives in the blood vessels, arteries and veins around and in the heart and lungs. The worms damage the dog by simply blocking the blood circulation, which puts incredible strain on the heart and can often lead to congestive heart disease or heart attack. The parasite is found throughout North America contrary to the popular belief they are only found in the southern United States.
Dogs get heartworms through mosquito bites. The larvae are passed into the blood stream where they migrate to the heart and large blood vessels. There the larvae grow into adults and began reproducing at alarming rates. After roughly seven months, the dog will start to show symptoms of weight loss, lethargy and coughing during exercise. If the infestation becomes bad enough, heart failure can occur. This is the inevitable result with this parasite, which makes this the worst type of parasite infection for a pup.
From a clinical perspective, diagnosing heartworms is done in a couple of different ways. One approach is to conduct an x-ray or MRI to look for the tail tell signs. A second approach is to analyze the blood for certain antigens produced by the female heartworms. Either will reveal if heartworms are present.
Treatment of heartworms is extensive and expensive. Given this, preventative medication is often a very good investment. Potential preventative medications include:
- DEC – given daily
- Heartgard Plus – given monthly
- Interceptor – given monthly
- Sentinel – given monthly
- Revolution – applied to the skin intermittently
The costs obviously differ by product. That being said, you can usually get a year worth of treatments for under $100. While not cheap, it is much cheaper than the cost of treatment required once your pup is infected with this parasite.
If the dog already has heartworms, the treatment is somewhat like the treatment for cancer in some ways. Blood poisoning is induced in an effort to poison and kill the worms much like radiation is used to kill cancer cells. As you can imagine, this is not good for the dog. The pup must be hospitalized for two to three days during this treatment so their condition can be monitored and to address any incidents of heart failure caused by dead worms actually blocking an artery or vein. That's a mental picture you probably are going to want to erase from your memory.
The initial treatment program should kill the adult heartworms. Unfortunately, this is only part of the problem. The heartworms will have laid eggs and larvae, which also must be treated. This is typically undertaken two to three weeks after the initial treatment. The dog must be hospitalized again for a number of days so their condition can be monitored.
At this point, you would be excused for thinking your dog is healed. While the worms should all be dead, a secondary problem exists. It may take months for the heartworms to breakdown and pass out of the circulatory system. As they do, they can block arteries and cause the pup to have a heart attack. Given this, dog owners are instructed to keep their dog from being active for up to three months to give the body time to flush out the parasites.
Parasites are a fact of life with most dogs at one point or another. Pay close attention to your dog's hair color and overall activity levels. If the hair becomes bland or they become lethargic, get them to the vet. As with most health risks, dog worms are much easier and cheaper to treat when discovered early on in the infestation period. Do not procrastinate if you suspect problems.
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