Dogs often fall victim to several common intestinal parasites known as worms. There are a large number of different types of intestinal worms, but dogs are most commonly affected by tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. These parasites live in the digestive tract where they feed on nutrients, robbing the dog of the nutrition it takes in. Worm infestations can cause a variety of undesirable symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and a generally poor appearance.
How do Dogs Get Worms?
There are a number of ways that a dog can wind up with an infestation of any of these types of intestinal parasites. An animal infested with any of these types of worms may pass the worms’ eggs in its feces. This is a strong argument for picking up after your pet as often as possible and not allowing your dog to eat feces (something dogs will do) whenever you can. Tapeworm eggs can be spread by fleas. Fleas eat the eggs (quite a delicacy to a flea) and then pass them to a dog when biting it. Some roundworms will lie dormant in the body of a pregnant dog and activate just before it gives birth. The activated worms make their way into the intestines of the unborn puppies where they will thrive after the pups are born.
Detecting Worms in Dogs
Worm infestations can be difficult to detect. While some worms may be passed in the feces, betraying their presence, it is uncommon. If a dog is displaying symptoms that may indicate the presence of worms, a vet should be consulted. A stool sample will be examined for the presence of worm eggs and a medication called a "wormer" will be prescribed. Stool samples are often collected as part of a routine dog physical examination in order to check for the presence of worms. In the case of tapeworms, discarded tapeworm segments may be visible in the dog’s feces or attached to the fur around the anus or under the tail. To the naked eye these may look like small bits of white rice.
Treating Dogs for Worms
When a dog is found to have an infestation of worms, it should be prescribed a wormer immediately by a vet. Depending on the severity of the infestation, the type of worms, and the likelihood of re-infestation, the treatment may need to be repeated one or several times. There are over-the-counter wormers available, but most vets do not recommend them because they are necessarily weaker and may not kill all types of worms and their eggs. Intestinal worms can cause numerous health problems for dogs, up to and including death in extreme cases. Taking measures to prevent infestation, detect it as quickly as possible, and treat it accordingly can help keep your dog safe from these harmful parasites.