Worms in dogs are not a pleasant thing to deal with and some worms can infect humans. Today, our vets in Johns Creek discuss common types of worms in dogs, how they can be prevented, the signs of worms, and how they are diagnosed.
Worms in Dogs
No dog owner wants to think about their dog having worms crawling through their internal organs. It is important to know the risks, symptoms, and treatment options for worms in dogs as part of keeping your canine companion healthy and free of parasites that can negatively affect their health.
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 and in some cases humans.
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 stool (bright red or darker purple)
- Pot-bellied 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.
Heartworms are the dangerous but also the most preventable 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 Johns Creek 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 preventive medicine doesn't kill adult heartworms.
These intestinal parasites can cause anemia and may become fatal in puppies if left untreated. Dogs can fall ill due to several different kinds of hookworms. 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 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 hookworms.
A veterinarian can diagnose hookworms by performing a test called fecal flotation, a microscopic example of a stool sample. The stool is mixed with a solution that will cause hookworm eggs to float to the top. Deworming medications can be used to treat the parasite and should usually be given twice - once to catch adult worms and then 2 to 4 weeks later to kill newly developed worms.
A common intestinal worm in dogs, there are actually two types of roundworms: Toxocara canis (T. canis) and Toxascaris leonina. T. canis.
It is more common in puppies and can be transmitted to humans. Many newborn puppies have roundworms, it's important that pups receive appropriate veterinary care. Your vet can use a fecal sample to diagnose roundworms and treat them 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, it's critical that infections be diagnosed promptly and that treatment is 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 it is important 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. Human can also get infected with tapeworm.
Whipworms live in the beginning of a dog's larges intestine (cecum) and colon, where eggs can be passed into the dog's feces. A dog can get whipworms by ingessting an infested substance such as feces, animal flesh, water, soil 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.
Dogs can be diagnosed with whipworms when your vet takes a fecal sample, but false negatives are not uncommon as eggs are not easy to find in all samples. If you see blood in your dog's stool, repeat fecal exams are recommended. Often, three monthly treatments will be prescribed by your vet.
For prevention, cleaning up after your dog is vital to health and sanitation.
How to Diagnose Worms in Dogs
While we can often see tapeworms in a dog's stool, vets must usually diagnose other types of intestinal worms by performing a microscopic examination of a stool sample to look 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. It's wise to take a stool sample to your vet when you bring your dog in for an annual examination even when your dog is not showing symptoms.
Blood tests are often used to detect heartworms, but in some cases a radiograph, echocardiogram or ultrasound will be needed. In the early stages of heartworm disease, many dogs show no symptoms.
Receiving treatment as early as possible increases the chance that heartworm treatment will be successful. This is why it's a good idea to have your pup tested annually for heartworms.
When it comes to intestinal worms in dogs, flea control, regular testing, prevention and good hygiene are the principles to keep in mind. Your Johns Creek 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. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.