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Dog Worms: Identifying the Signs and Symptoms

Article written by Nancy Settecasi

There are 5 different types of dog worms (internal parasites), which your dog can fall prey to. These are: heartworm, hookworm, roundworm, tapeworm and whipworm. As a dog owner, we recommend that you educate yourself on these worms in order to be able to recognize the symptoms if they should become evident in your dog.

Early worm detection is important because each type of dog worm requires a different form of treatment. You should also be aware of the fact that roundworm and hookworm are zoonotic, which means that these worms can be transmitted to humans. Some worm infestations may show little to no symptoms, whereas others can demonstrate severe symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss. Some dog worms can be seen by the naked eye while some cannot, therefore it is a good idea to ask your vet to perform a stool test for dog worms once a year.

Below you can find a list of common telltale symptoms of dog worm infestation, but keep in mind that these symptoms can also be a sign of a more serious problem. Either way, always consult a veterinarian whenever your dog is not “his usual self.”

  • Dull coat
  • Weight loss
  • Appetite loss
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Coughing
  • Low energy level
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

ROUNDWORMS (Toxocara canis, Toxascaris leonina)

There are two types of Roundworm: Toxocara canis and Toxascaris leonine. This is the most common type of dog worm, which affects the intestines and causes a pot-bellied appearance, mostly in puppies. There are a few ways puppies can become infected. Puppies are often infected before birth through the mother’s uterus or through her milk. Puppies can also contract these worms through the ingestion of an infected animal (such as a rodent) or infected soil. Roundworm eggs can live in soil for many years. Once a puppy has ingested the infected soil, the eggs will hatch in his intestines, allowing the worms to live there and grow to adulthood. These adults will then produce more eggs.

Roundworms may be found in your dog’s stool or vomit. They can grow to about 7 inches in length and have a spagetti-like appearance. If this type of infestation is not detected early and is allowed a chance to develop, a buildup of worms in the intestines can cause an obstruction which may result in death. The symptoms of a severe infestation are: pot-belly appearance, diarrhea, vomiting, dull coat and weight loss.

Puppies should be dewormed every 2 weeks between 2 and 12 weeks of age, then monthly until he is 6 months old. Once your puppy has reached 6 months of age, he is less susceptible to contracting these worms but should continue yearly exams (or more often if considered high-risk).

Because Roundworm can be transmitted to humans, it is important to promote good hygiene, such as washing your hands regularly. Transmittion of this dog worm to humans is usually through infected soil, which may be in your backyard or front lawn. Because the eggs are sticky and can easily adher to hands or clothing, make sure children (and adults) wash their hands after playing outside (especially at a park or playground), after playing with the dog and before it’s time to eat.

Treatment generally involves administering oral medication (dewormer) with follow-up fecal exams and a monthly heartworm medication. Try 1-800-PetMeds - America's Pet Health Resource

Prevent your dog from contracting roundworms by cleaning up fecal matter from the backyard as often as possible. Also, administering a heartworm medication such as HeartGard - Prescription Heartworm medication for Dogs & Cats is a good preventive. Do not mix wormers and consult your vet before giving your dog any medication. And last, but not least, always remember annual exams.

HOOKWORMS (Ancylostoma caninium)

Like Roundworm, Hookworm harbors in the intestines and can also be transmitted to humans. Hookworms can affect a dog at any age. It is a small, thin worm that hooks on to the intestinal wall and sucks the blood from its victim, which cause anemia and perhaps death. Due to their sharp teeth, they also cause bleeding in the intestines. Hookworms are not visible by the naked eye, therefore should be diagnosed by a vet. As with roundworm, hookworms also live and grow to adulthood in the intestines. They can also be transmitted to pups while in the mother’s uterus or through her breast milk. A dog infected with hookworm would experience bloody stool, anemia, weight loss, pale gums, diarrhea and low energy level. Skin irritation can be a sign of a severe infestation.

Hookworms can be transmitted to humans by penetration of the skin, making it is possible for people to become infected simply by walking barefoot on infected soil. Hookworms, when transmitted to humans, can cause bleeding in the intestines along with abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Treatment usually consists of oral medications (dewormer), follow-up fecal exams, intravenous therapy and, if necessary, a blood transfusion. Hookworm infestation can kill your pup before the worm is ever detected. This is why it is so important to keep up with veterinary visits and exams.

TAPEWORMS (Dipylidium caninum)

The tapeworm gets its name from its long, flat, tape-like appearance. It is yet another parasite that affects the intestines, and like the roundworm, can be seen by the naked eye. Broke pieces of this dog worm would be found in the dog’s fecal matter, which give it a rice-like appearance. These pieces of worm, although broken, can be found (still moving) around the dog’s anus, in his stool or in his bed. Common symptoms of severe tapeworm infestation are abdominal pain, nervousness, severe itching around the anus, vomiting and weight loss.

Transmission to dogs is often caused by the ingestion of infected fleas. Although, humans are susceptible to being infected, a dog cannot transmit the dog worm to a human directly.

Regular over-the-counter deworming medication is not effective in eliminating this type of dog worm. A prescription dewormer is administered orally or by injection (praziquantel or epsiprantel). Consult your vet. Try 1-800-PetMeds - America's Pet Health Resource

WHIPWORMS (Trichuris vulpis)

Whipworms are long, thin (whip-shaped) dog worms that live in the dog's colon and are not visible by the naked eye. They attach themselves to the intestinal walls and feed off of them which, in turn, causes intestinal bleeding. Common symptoms of whipworm infestation are anemia, weight loss, flatulence, diarrhea with blood or mucus in the stool and lack of energy.

Although whipworms are the most difficult to eliminate among the families of dog worms, there is effective treatment available.

Whipworm is most effectively treated with fenbendazole (panacur), but febantel can also be used. Prescription medications are usually more effective. The treatment lasts for up to 5 days and is repeated after 3 weeks. After this treatment is finished, consult your vet about recommending a heartworm medication (containing milbemycin oxime) as a prophylactic to future infestation. Try 1-800-PetMeds - America's Pet Health Resource

Along with administering heartworm medication regularly, here are other ways to prevent reinfection:

  • Remove feces from backyard every few days

  • Clean yard with a safe cleaning agent (which kills worms)

  • Have feces tested every 6 months (more often if previously infected)

HEARTWORMS (Dirofilaria immitis)

Heartworm, although highly preventable, has the potential to be fatal, if contracted and left untreated.

Heartworm is spread by mosquitoes, mostly during the warm months when mosquitoes are most active. The mosquito becomes infected from biting dogs that carry the disease. These dog worms destroy the muscle and tissue of the heart, which can cause congestive heart failure and result in death. At this advanced stage, your dog would experience the typical signs of worms, such as pot-belly, coughing, lack of energy and dull coat.

Unfortunately, there are no symptoms of this disease until it has progressed to an advanced stage. For this reason, it is important to start your dog on a heartworm preventative such as HeartGard - Prescription Heartworm medication for Dogs & Cats at 6 months of age (after the first stage deworming process is complete. Check with your vet). Prevention is the best medicine.

General guidelines for dog worm prevention

  • When walking your dog in a park, picking up his feces as a standard practice not only prevents soil contamination, but also prevents the spread of many other dog diseases.

  • Regular visits to the vet and stool testing is a great way to prevent dog worms, as well as other illnesses. Twice-yearly worm testing is recommended. Make sure your dog is tested for worms before starting a heartworm preventative.

  • High-risk dogs should be screened more often (check with your vet).

  • Flea control is important because fleas are responsible for the spread of tapeworms.

  • Most puppies find feces quite appetizing. Keep your dog away from feces: his own as well as others. This is the most common form of worm infestation.

  • When cleaning your dog’s area, such as his bed or crate, spray it with a strong saltwater solution and let dry. This aids in the prevention of worms.

  • Before traveling with your dog to obscure destinations, consult your vet of the potential risks to your dog.

  • Avoid exposing your dog to stray animals, birds and dead rodents, which often harbor immature tapeworms that can mature inside your dog.

  • Contact your vet if your dog displays any symptoms after receiving worm medication.

Please be advised that the information provided on this site is offered for research purposes only. We are intent in raising awareness on the various medical conditions that exist in dogs.

This information is NOT intended to replace the advice of a veterinarian, dog trainer or pet care professional.

About the Author: Nancy Settecasi, Owner of Happy K-9 Dog Care
Proud owner of Cookie and Skippy, Cocker Spaniels, Dog Lover

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