Dogs are prone to several different types of intestinal parasites, with roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms and whipworms being the most common. Let’s learn a little more about the different types of intestinal worms found in dogs, their symptoms, and how to protect your pet against these common parasites.
Signs that may indicate your dog has worms
Of the four most common parasitic worms in dogs, only tapeworms and roundworms may be seen with the naked eye in your pet’s doo doo. However, even though worms may not be clearly visible, you can often determine if your pet is infested with worms by assessing some of the symptoms they are showing, which typically include:
- Diarrhea (often containing blood)
- Loss of weight, or sometimes a potbelly (roundworm infestation)
- Dry coat and general lack of condition
However, in some cases there are no outwardly visible symptoms, and the larvae or eggs may lie dormant within your pet’s intestine, only becoming active during times of stress. Roundworms and hookworms, for example, often remain dormant within a pregnant bitch’s body and are activated towards the end of her pregnancy, infecting her unborn pups.
Intestinal worms tend to be rather illusive little critters; largely because in their quest for survival they must remain in the intestine. If they are excreted they will die. If you suspect your pet may have worms but haven’t noticed any sign of them, it would be best to get your vet to analyse a stool sample under a microscope to determine if there are any parasites (including worm eggs and/or larvae) present, and if so, which type.
Many puppies are born with microscopic roundworm larvae they inherited from their mother whilst in the womb. Pups can also become infested by ingesting infected milk when suckling from their mother. The larvae migrate into the intestine where they develop into mature adults and shed eggs, perpetuating the cycle further. Eggs can be passed out in the stool, where they survive for many years due to their hard-exterior casing, infesting other animals that ingest them. Once the eggs that remain within the body hatch, the microscopic larvae migrate to the lungs, where they are coughed up and swallowed into the intestinal tract, where they cycle is repeated once again.
Infected puppies typically have swollen bellies (as a result of a gut full of these spaghetti-like worms) and worms may be visible in their stools or in vomit. Growth is usually poor, and if left untreated a large infestation of roundworms can block the intestines, which can be fatal. Because roundworm can infest puppies and adults alike, regularly deworming is recommended. However, because most dewormers kill the adult worms living within the intestines, deworming a pregnant or lactating mother will not eradicate the larval cysts that have taken up residence in other body tissue, and will therefore not be able to stop worms from being transferred to her newborn pups.
Dogs typically become infested with tapeworms if they are infested with fleas. The tapeworm’s structure consists of a head together with many tiny elongated segments that make up the rest of the body. A tapeworm can grow to around 10-15 centimetres long inside the intestinal tract, with each worm consisting of up to 90 segments. As the tapeworm grows, segments at the tail end of the worm are shed, and these individual segments — which resemble grains of rice — can often be seen in the stools of an infected dog or on the fur around the tail. This is usually the first sign that your dog has a tapeworm infestation. As regular over-the-counter dewormers do not kill tapeworms, rather ask your veterinarian to prescribe you a dewormer that will be more effective at eradicating these parasites.
If your dog has lost an unexplained amount of weight and his/her stools are covered in mucous, your pet may be suffering from a whipworm infestation. Diagnosis can be difficult as the tiny thread-like adult whipworms live in the first part of a dog’s large intestine and seldom appear in the dog’s stool. As they also tend to shed far fewer eggs than other parasitic worms, a stool sample may not give any clue as to their presence. While whipworm infestations are not likely to be fatal, they can lead to a decline in the dogs overall condition. If a dog exhibits any of the symptoms mentioned above, to be on the safe side a veterinarian may prescribe a whipworm deworming agent in order to eradicate any parasites that may potentially be lurking out of sight deep within the dog’s intestine.
Hookworms are tiny, microscopic blood-sucking parasites that attach to the wall of the dog’s small intestine. Dogs can get infected when they ingest larvae from contaminated grass or soil, while puppies can become infected by larvae passed on from their mother’s while in the womb or from her milk when suckling. Because hookworm live on the blood of their hosts, a severe infestation of these blood-sucking parasites can cause a puppy to become anaemic, which if left untreated, can be fatal. In adult dogs, symptoms of hookworm infestation include difficulty maintaining weight or weight loss, poor stamina, diarrhoea — often with blood present, anaemia and weakness. In order to make a diagnosis, your vet will require a stool sample which will be examined under a microscope to see if there are any hookworm eggs present.
Can Dogs Pass Worms on to Humans?
Parasitic intestinal worms can be passed from dogs on to humans and can potentially have a negative impact on our health too. Children are particularly vulnerable and are more at risk if they play in an area that may contain contaminated animal faeces. Deworming your pets is therefore essential for both their health, and the health and well-being of your family.
Deworming your dog
Different types of parasitic worms require different types of deworming solutions. Knowing what is the most appropriate dewormer to give your pet can be tricky if you are not sure what type of worms they are infested with. It is advisable to consult your veterinarian who will be able to prescribe you with the most appropriate and effective dewormer to combat the parasitic invasion your pet is faced with, as well as advise you on the most appropriate dosage for your pet’s weight, and how often you should repeat the treatment for best results. While dewormers prescribed by your vet are likely to be more expensive than their over-the-counter counterparts, they are more likely to be effective. Opting for a cheap generic over-the-counter dewormer is false economy; rather spend your money wisely and pay a bit more for a solution that will be effective. Never administer a mixture of different dewormers or deworm a dog that is on other medication without first seeking the advice of your veterinarian.
Families with kids and dogs can also take some additional precautionary measures around the home to reduce the risk of infestation, including:
- Keeping your garden free of pet faeces by picking up the doggy-doo frequently, paying particular attention to areas where your children play;
- Discouraging pets from licking children in the face/mouth;
- Encouraging children to wash their hands after playing with dogs;
- Trying not to let your dog wander around public open spaces (such as dog parks) that are likely to be infested with the larvae of intestinal parasites that they may ingest and bring home;
- Deworm your children regularly too.
Keep an eye on your pets; if you notice any subtle changes in their condition or stools, you may want to get it checked out by your vet to determine if intestinal worms may be the cause.