Canines and Worms: The Signs and Veterinary Recommendations 

Most dog owners dote on their pets and want only the best for them. Discovering your dog has worms is disturbing, but these parasites are quite common in canines. The good news is that deworming treatments are straightforward and effective. After a diagnosis, your veterinarian will recommend the most appropriate treatment based on the type of worms your dog harbors.  

Types of Canine Worms 

Different types of canine worms end up in various parts of a dog’s body. Here’s a rundown of the types of canine worms and their destination: 

  • Heartworms–Unlike other types of worms, heartworms are spread by bites from infected mosquitoes. The mosquito transfers heartworm larvae into the dog’s bloodstream. Untreated dogs can end up with heartworms of up to 1 foot long, with severely infested dogs having as many as 300 such worms in the body.   
  • Hookworms–These worms attach to the front of the small intestine. Because hookworms suck so much blood, infected dogs may become anemic. In puppies, anemia often proves fatal. While dogs may ingest hookworm larvae by consuming contaminated soil or feces, hookworm larvae can also penetrate canine skin.   
  • Roundworms–Very common in puppies, roundworm larvae develop in the liver and make their way to the lungs as they grow to adulthood. The adult worms are coughed up and swallowed, ending up in the small intestine. If your dog throws up something resembling spaghetti, or excretes it in their feces, suspect roundworms.  
  • Tapeworms–In dogs, a tapeworm infestation is associated with fleas. Tapeworms require an intermediary host, and flea larvae serve that purpose. Flea larvae eat tapeworm eggs if available, and the tapeworms develop within the insect. Dogs chew adult fleas on their bodies and ingest tapeworms. The tapeworms attach to the walls of the small intestine.  
  • Whipworms–These worms attach to the wall of the large intestine or colon. Since these worms are particularly hard to eradicate, puppies may need deworming every few months.  

Keep in mind that some canine worms are zoonotic, meaning they can pass from dogs to humans.  

Signs of Canine Worms 

Dogs suffering from worms often look unhealthy. Their coats are dry and dull, and they may exhibit poor muscle tone. Suspect worms if your dog displays any of the following symptoms: 

  • Bloody feces 
  • Unexplained weight loss 
  • Distended belly  
  • Diarrhea 
  • Lethargy 

In some cases, you can see canine worms in your dog’s feces. Tapeworms are particularly visible. If your dog has what resembles small bits of rice in his feces or around his anus, that “rice” is likely tapeworm segments. If your dog “scoots,” that’s another indication of tapeworm infestation.  

Heartworm symptoms differ from those of other worms. Dogs with heartworm infestation may display exercise intolerance, coughing, breathing difficulties, or a bulging chest cavity due to fluid collection.  

Canine Worm Diagnosis 

To diagnose the type of worms in your dog, your vet needs a fresh stool sample. When viewed under a microscope, the sample reveals whether worm eggs are present, and the type of worm involved.  

When it comes to diagnosing heartworms, a blood test is necessary. If the test is positive, an ultrasound or X-ray shows the extent of heart or lung damage.  

Canine Worm Treatment  

Most canine worm treatment consists of putting the dog on a regular deworming schedule using a recommended deworming medication based on the worm type and the animal’s weight. Puppies require deworming from the age of two weeks, followed by additional deworming every two to three weeks until weaning.   

While over-the-counter canine dewormers are available, those requiring a veterinary prescription are more effective. Your vet will devise a deworming protocol based on your dog’s specific needs. 

Dogs testing positive for heartworms need more substantial treatment. Your vet will not put your dog on a heartworm preventive without testing for the presence of worms because an adult heartworm die-off can kill your pet.  

The only FDA-approved treatment for canine heartworms is melarsomine, which is given in a series of injections in a veterinarian’s clinic. In most cases, adult worms are eliminated within three months. However, during treatment your dog must remain caged with exercise greatly curtailed. Too much exercise or excitement increases the odds of bits of dead worm causing blood clots or invading the lungs’ blood vessels.  

Preventing Canine Worms 

Many puppies have worms, primarily roundworms and hookworms. They contract worms from their mother either in utero or while nursing. Heavy worm infestations can kill vulnerable puppies.  

Dogs also pick up worms in the environment. Worm eggs or larvae shed through other dogs’ feces can end up infecting canines that sniff or lick the affected grass or dirt.  

Keep your dog on a flea preventive and practice good flea prevention in your home and yard to lower the risks of tapeworm infestation.  

If your dog is on a regular heartworm preventive containing ivermectin, that drug should also eradicate other types of canine worms. However, ivermectin does not kill tapeworms. Getting rid of tapeworms requires an additional type of dewormer.  

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