All sorts of them. Out there. Everywhere.
And they looooooooove dogs, because dogs make great, easy hosts for them to live and replicate. This happens when dogs sniff, slurp, gobble, bite, chew, and otherwise ingest stuff throughout their typical day on walks, hikes, and other outings. This also happens when dogs chase (and snatch) rabbits, rats, mice, possums, raccoons, deer legs, etc.
It doesn’t matter how clean you are, how tidy your backyard is, or how quickly you pickup after your dogs. Unless you and your dog live in a bubble, worm management will be a reality of owning dogs. Warning: some of these are zoonotic (ahem, roundworms) and can affect us humans as well.
Worms and Parasites that Commonly Affect Dogs
Worms are gross. We also hate them because they cause gastrointestinal problems for our dogs. Here are some worms and parasites that commonly affect our animals, how they are transmitted, and what your dog’s symptoms might be after being affected by them:
Roundworm can be contracted through infected poop or dirt. It can be transmitted from mothers to puppies before birth and through nursing. This thin, spaghetti-like parasite is around 12cm long and can cause a pot-bellied appearance. Symptoms may include weight loss, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea or mucus in the stool, and stunted growth.
Hookworm is one of the most dangerous of all intestinal parasites. It can be transmitted from mothers to puppies before birth and through nursing. You may be able to spot it by observing the level of your puppy’s lethargy, and looking out for symptoms that include anemia, poor appetite and black tar-like stools that contain blood.
Tapeworm can infect a puppy when it eats its larvae from a host animal, such as a flea or a mouse. There are no obvious symptoms, but small, rice-like segments can be found around their anus or in their stool. Mature tapeworms will cause your puppy to eat more than normal, but with no weight gain.
Whipworm will find its way to your puppy’s digestive tract, causing chronic bowel inflammation. You may notice mucus in the stools and weight loss or diarrhea.
Coccidia is an organism that can live in your puppy’s intestines. It is sometimes ingested through raw or undercooked meat, including rodents. Symptoms can include diarrhea, fever, weight loss and loss of appetite.
Heartworm can enter a puppy through the bite of a mosquito. It causes heart or lung damage, coughing, lethargy and fatigue, and can be fatal. Heartworms can be detected through a blood test, and while they are difficult to cure, they are simple to prevent. Ask your vet about treatment.
Ringworm is caused by a fungus that lives on the skin and is extremely contagious – it can even be transmitted to humans. Ringworm appears as oval bare patches on your puppy’s skin. To minimize the risk, avoid unnecessary contact with other dogs. If you suspect your puppy has ringworm, take them to the vet to get checked as ringworm can only be detected under an ultraviolet light. Once detected, your veterinarian will be able to administer the correct treatment.
An adult dog may never show any signs of having worms. That’s why it’s a good idea to take poop samples to the veterinarian at least annually to check for worms.
Your veterinarian will look for worms under a microscope in-house, and/or sent to a laboratory offsite for further evaluation. Note: Sometimes vets don’t see all the parasites that may be lurking under a microscope, and sometimes, test results come back with false negatives, or false positives.
Treatments are simple and effective, and should be done on adult dogs about every three months. For roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, and tapeworm, we recommend Panacur C granule packets, dosed according to package directions. For heartworm, we recommend Heartgard.
There is no such thing as prevention [see also: worms are everywhere] but the following best practices will help minimize your dog’s exposure:
- Keep your dog healthy and his immune system in tip-top shape (proper diet and nutrition helps)
- Keep a regular de-worming schedule
- Have your veterinarian check your dog’s poops on a regular basis (annually)
- Minimize your dog’s exposure to fleas (tapeworm) and heartworm (carried by mosquitos)
- Pickup your dog’s poops immediately
- Wash your hands often
- Don’t let your dog sniff other dog’s poops while you’re out and about (dog park, hiking trails, beaches, etc.)
- Prevent your dogs from playing with rodents and other little critters (like rabbits)
- Prevent your dogs from sniffing or picking up dead animal parts (deer, rabbits, cattle)
When is it time to see the vet?
If you believe your dog(s) may still be infested with worms even after sticking to a regular de-worming schedule and is exhibiting some symptoms mentioned previously, go see your veterinarian.