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How to Tell if Your Dog Has Worms? Everything You Need To Know

It is a sad reality of pet ownership that your furry friend will probably pick up intestinal worms at some point in their lifetime. The most unfortunate thing is that the intestinal worms often go unnoticed and undiagnosed because symptoms may not present themselves. However, if left untreated, your dog may fall seriously ill, and there’s also a chance that you can even become infected. Intestinal worms can come from a variety of sources and wreak havoc on your dog’s gastrointestinal tract. 

However, it’s not always easy to tell if your dog has worms, which is why it’s so important to stay on top of your pet’s health. Here’s what you need to know to protect your dog and your family from intestinal worms.

What are Intestinal Worms? 

Intestinal worms are nothing but parasites that infect a host, like your dog, and reside in their intestines, feeding off their blood or the food present in the intestines and causing various symptoms. Roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, and whipworms are all common worms your dog or puppy can catch.

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What are the Types Of Dog Worms? 

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Here’s the list of intestinal parasites that are some of the most common types of dog worms:

Roundworms

Roundworms are the most common dog worms of all types. Roundworms in dogs grow to reach 3”-5″ long in adulthood and look like a piece of wet spaghetti. Usually, roundworms in dogs can be transmitted via the nursing process: 

  • By feeding on an already infected animal, or 
  • By getting in contact with the infected feces of another animal.

Symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • A dull coat
  • A ”pot-bellied” appearance

Tapeworms

In dogs, tapeworms have long and flat ⅛” segmented bodies leading up to 8” in length. Tapeworms in dogs transpire when a dog encounters or ingests a host carrying tapeworm eggs, such as a bird or a flea.

Symptoms include:

  • Chewing at the rear end
  • Excessive scooting
  • Itching

Whipworms

Whipworms are one of the most harmful dog worms that grow ¼” long and reside in the cecum and colon. They can cause extreme damage to these organs and are more geographically distinct than other dog worms.

Symptoms include:

  • Chronic weight loss
  • Bloody diarrhea 
  • Visible mucus coating on the feces

Hookworms

The smallest of all common dog worm varieties is Hookworm. Hookworms grow to approximately 1″ in length and feed on the blood residing primarily in the dog’s small intestine. They can cause deadly anemia in dogs of all ages, especially puppies. Hookworms are transmitted in the feces and can infect other animals and humans.

Symptoms include:

  • Lethargy 
  • Anemia
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Weakness

Heartworms

Heartworms are one of the most severe infectious conditions in dogs. They live in the heart and pulmonary arteries of dogs. Heartworms are transmitted by infected mosquitoes, which migrate throughout the body over about 6 months before finally resting in the circulatory system. Therefore, heartworms can be transmitted only from an infected mosquito’s bite and not within or between species. These worms are preventable and treatable but can be deadly if not diagnosed and controlled before the advanced stages of infestation.

Symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Coughing
  • Reduced activity
  • Malaise

Ringworm

Ringworm, also called dermatophytosis, is a skin disorder caused by a fungus that results in lesions and sores on the epidermal layer. Interestingly, ringworm is not caused by a worm but by an infection of dead layers of skin, nails, and hair. Ringworm is curable in dogs, but treatment can take time and be very painful.

Roundworms and tapeworms in dogs are the common types of dog worms veterinarians often see and treat.

What Causes Worms in Dogs?

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Dogs can contract worms in various ways, depending on the species of worm.

  • Transmammary (when a puppy is nursing, via their mother’s milk)
  • Transplacental (before a puppy is born, via the placenta)
  • Transdermal (through the skin)
  • Contact with infected feces
  • Contact with infected soil
  • Eating wild game
  • Fleas
  • Mosquitos

Puppies can contract parasites from their mothers during pregnancy or while nursing. For instance, roundworms can cross the placental barrier, so many puppies are born already infested. Puppies can also ingest hookworms with colostrum, and the nutrient-rich milk puppies drink directly after birth.

Hookworms can be transmitted to your dog through infected soil. Transdermal infection can occur when this parasite penetrates the skin while dogs lie on the infected ground. The eggs of these parasites are also often ingested by dogs as they play, groom, and sniff themselves in infected areas.

Infected feces transmit whipworms, roundworms, hookworms, and other parasites, which is why good hygiene is crucial for both your health and your dog’s. Other forms of transmission can be eating infested game (tapeworms), accidental ingestion of fleas (tapeworms), and mosquito bites (heartworm).

What are the Common Symptoms That Indicate Worms in Dogs?

Here are the common symptoms that may mean your dog has worms.

1. Vomiting

Dogs with worms often throw up. In addition, roundworms may sometimes show in a dog’s vomit.

2. Diarrhea

Soft stools or diarrhea can result from worms and bloody stools may indicate hookworms.

3. Coughing

Cough is one advanced stage sign of heartworms in a dog. Dogs with hookworms or roundworms may also cough.

4. Lethargy

Dogs feeling lethargic may have worms.

5. Change in Food Habits

A sudden change in your dog’s appetite may indicate he is infected with roundworms. For example, food may lose its appeal or he becomes more hungry because worms steal nutrients from their food.

6. Loss of Weight

Sudden loss of weight may mean the presence of tapeworms or whipworms in your dog.

7. Dull Coat

Worms may cause your dog’s coat to appear dull and dried out. Other signs of worms may be hair loss and the appearance of rashes.

8. Skin Irritations

A severe infestation of worms may cause skin irritation and itching in your dog.

9. Scooting

A dog rubbing its bottom on the floor or ground often indicates a problem with the anal glands. However, a dog with worms may hurry to relieve the itch due to worms in the anal area.

 10. Bloating

If your dog begins to have a potbelly, it may have contracted worms. Likewise, if a bloated stomach applies to pups, they will probably have picked up worms from their mother.

How to Diagnose Dog Worms?

If you suspect that your dog has any intestinal parasites, here’s what to do.

Call for a Vet Appointment

  • If you think your dog picked up worms, you should schedule an appointment with your regular vet as soon as you can.
  • If left untreated, intestinal parasites can travel to other organs in your dog’s body, including the heart, eyes, lungs, liver, and brain, which could lead to worsening sickness and even death in the most critical cases.

Collect a Sample of Your Dog’s Stool

  • Your vet may ask you to bring a fresh sample of your dog’s stool from home, especially if you see worms in their feces or notice dried, rice-like segments in their fur.
  • You only need a small number of feces; usually, about a teaspoon-sized sample will do.
  • However, if you cannot collect a fresh sample at home, the veterinary staff will collect a sample when you visit for your dog’s appointment.
  • If your vet is suspicious of roundworms, hookworms, or whipworms, they will examine individual microscopic eggs in the sample.
  • Tapeworms are usually identified microscopically by their egg packets, which are the rice-like segments you might see over your pet’s fur. Sometimes, you may also see an adult worm in the fecal sample, which can be extremely helpful for identification.

Keep Your Dog in Hygienic Conditions

  • Clean up your backyard feces at least 2-3 times per week. Dispose of feces immediately with sanitary gloves and sealable bags in public parks, playgrounds, and dog parks. 
  • Emphasize clean and hygienic conditions in the home, including limiting internal exposure to contaminated soil, fecal matter, and/or host animals. 
  • Emphasize hygiene in public, and especially with kids, by limiting or avoiding exposure to potentially contaminated objects, locations, animals, or people

How to Deworm Puppies And New Dogs?

Both puppies and rehomed adult dogs should be dewormed as per the following:

  • Puppies: Initial treatment should be given at 3 weeks of age and then as directed by your vet. After the initial treatment(s) are completed, a monthly heartworm preventive is recommended that also helps prevent intestinal parasites. This has to be the beginning of an annual dewormer for dogs protocol that your vet can monitor and adjust if necessary.
  • Adult Dogs: Once the initial dewormer for your dog has been given as a puppy, your dog should receive monthly preventives year-round. Additionally, performing fecal tests between 2-4 times per year is highly recommended, depending on your dog’s lifestyle and other factors.
  • Newly Adopted Dogs: No matter the age or documented history, a dewormer for dogs is immediately recommended upon acquisition, then again as advised by your vet, with a monthly dog’s dewormer preventive to follow as directed.

How to Treat Worms in Dogs?

Before you reach for the deworming remedies, ensure you consult your vet about the medication that will be most effective, as well as any necessary supportive care. Also, bear in mind that puppies may be infected with multiple types of worms, in which case a combination of medicines or a deworming medication that targets all kinds of worms may be necessary.

The list of drugs approved for treating intestinal parasites in dogs include:

  • Fenbendazole
  • Milbemycin
  • Moxidectin
  • Piperazine
  • Pyrantel
  • Oxantel
  • Praziquantel
  • Epsiprantel
  • Nitroscanate

Before you go with any of these medications, try reaching your veterinarian about the best medicine for your dog.

Are Worms In Dogs A Danger To Family?

Some worm types in dogs, like roundworms, are harmful to humans, especially children who play in areas frequently visited by animals like dogs, cats, and raccoons. Sandboxes, dirt, sand-covered outdoor play areas, etc., routinely serve as makeshift litter boxes for pets infected with dog worms and other intestinal parasites. Approximately 10,000 children per year are infected with parasitic worms, and conditions including blindness can occur in critical cases. 

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Final Thoughts

Constantly check for your dog’s health and routine. Proper hygiene, regular check-ups with your vet, handling flea and tick controls, and other simple preventive measures can keep your dog away from worms. In addition, an annual test for heartworms is recommended, and consult your vet for preventive medications.

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