Dealing with worms in dogs is never pleasant. Today, our vets in Natick discuss common types of worms in dogs, how they can be prevented, the signs of worms, and how they are diagnosed.
No dog owner wants to imagine their dog having worms crawling through its internal organs. But it's crucial to understand the risks, signs, and treatments for dog worms to keep your furry friend healthy and parasite-free.
Left untreated, various types of worms, including roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, whipworms, and heartworms - can cause serious health problems. Dogs can pick up worms from animal feces and become infected, then pass them on to other dogs. In some cases, humans can contract certain types of worms - one reason it's important always to clean up your dog's poop.
In this article, our Natick veterinarian in Natick will explain common dog worm types, signs of infection, and what to do if your dog has worms.
Symptoms of Worms in Dogs
While each parasite will affect a dog's system differently, there are some general warning signs that dog owners should keep in mind. Intestinal worms can cause:
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Pneumonia or intestinal blockage
- Deficiencies in nutrition
- Blood in the stool (bright red or darker purple)
- Pot-bellied appearance
- Poor coat appearance
If your dog has heartworms, you may notice respiratory symptoms such as weak pulse, weight loss, intolerance for exercise, coughing, and abdominal distension. In extreme cases, they may experience labored breathing and pale gums. Heartworms can even be fatal in a dog.
Common Types of Worms in Dogs
Types of worms commonly found in dogs include tapeworms, roundworms, heartworms, whipworms, and hookworms.
Whipworms are tiny parasites that live in the dog's large intestine and colon. They lay eggs that end up in their dog's poop, animal meat, water, dirt, 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.
To find out if a dog has whipworms, the vet will check a sample of their poop. It's usually accurate because the eggs are hard to miss. If you see blood in your dog's poop, it's a good idea to do more fecal tests. The vet might give your dog medicine for about three months to treat whipworms.
For prevention, cleaning up after your dog is vital to health and sanitation.
Heartworms are the most worrisome - but also the most preventable - a type of worms in dogs. The parasite is transmitted via mosquitoes. Since those insects are nearly impossible to avoid in most places, our vets in Natick recommend regular heartworm preventatives to help keep your dog safe.
These worms grow and multiply within the heart, leading to organ damage, heart failure, and severe lung disease. Left untreated, heartworms can ultimately lead to death. Dogs, wolves, foxes, and coyotes can be carriers.
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.
Intestinal parasites called hookworms can make puppies very sick if not treated. 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 the 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 vet can test their fecal to find out if a dog has hookworms. They mix the fecal with a special situation that makes the hookworm eggs float to the top. Treatment involves giving the dog medicine twice - first to get rid of adult worms and then again 2 to 4 weeks later to kill any new ones that might have developed.
Another common intestinal worm in dogs there are 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, pups must receive appropriate veterinary care. Your vet can use a fecal sample to diagnose and treat roundworms 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, infections must be diagnosed promptly, and treatment must be 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.
How to Diagnose Worms in Dogs
Your vet can often spot tapeworms in your dog's poop, but for other types of worms, they need to check a small sample under a microscope 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 dog 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 dog tested annually for heartworms.
When dealing with intestinal worms in dogs, remember these key principles: flea control, regular testing, prevention, and good hygiene are the principles to keep. Your Natick 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. Please make an appointment with your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition.Is your dog due for a stool sample, or do you suspect your dog may have worms? Contact our veterinary team in Natick today to book an appointment.