The thought of worms infesting your furry friend is a disgusting one, but it can also have some quite serious health consequences for your pet. From weight loss and weakness to anemia and even heart failure, worms have the potential to inflict significant damage on your pet. In extreme cases, they can even be fatal.
The good news is that worms are easily preventable, and it's actually quite simple to protect your pet against a wide variety of these nasty little critters. Let's delve into the inner workings of your dog's body to find out how worms harm our canine companions and what you can do to help your dog stay safe!
Signs Your Dog Has Worms
The telltale signs of a worm infestation can vary slightly depending on the type of worm involved. One of the most deadly worms that can infect our four-legged fur-kids is heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis), which is spread by mosquitoes and can cause heart and lung disease. Severe cases of heartworm can be fatal, and these worms often don't produce any symptoms at all. However, a persistent cough, exercise intolerance, difficulty breathing, and weight loss can all be signs of a heartworm infestation.
Intestinal worms can also cause serious health problems for pooches. There are four main types of intestinal worms to be aware of:
- Roundworm (Toxocara canis, Toxascaris leonina). Roundworms can cause bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting.
- Hookworm (Ancylostoma caninum). Hookworms suck blood from your dog's small intestine and can cause symptoms such as bloody diarrhea, weight loss, weakness, and anemia.
- Tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum). The most obvious symptom of a tapeworm infection is if your dog scoots his bum along the ground, while these nasty creatures can also cause diarrhea, weight loss, and a patchy coat.
- Whipworm (Trichuris vulpis). Whipworm infections can cause diarrhea, weight loss, general weakness, and anemia in dogs.
The Science of Worms in Dogs
To understand the science behind the five most common worms that affect dogs, let's break it down and take a closer look at each worm individually.
- Heartworm. Spread by infected mosquitoes, heartworm is most common in warm, humid areas. Heartworms take up residence in the heart and lungs, where they can grow up to 12 inches long and cause serious damage to your pet's internal organs. Heartworm disease has been recorded in all 50 US states and it's estimated that these worms affect 1 million US dogs each year.
- Roundworm. Commonly diagnosed in puppies and most often transmitted from the mother before birth, roundworms infect up to 90 percent of pups under three months of age. Roundworms can grow up to seven inches long and live in the small intestine, and can be fatal for puppies.
- Hookworm. Hookworms feed on the blood in your dog's small intestine, which is not only disgusting but also very dangerous to your pet. They can also migrate to other parts of the body and are extremely dangerous to puppies.
- Tapeworm. There are actually two types of this flat, segmented worm: flea tapeworm and hydatid tapeworm. Flea tapeworms are the more common of the two and are spread when dogs ingest fleas that have eaten tapeworm eggs
- Whipworm. Whipworms are smaller than other types of worms, usually only growing to between one and two inches long. They're most commonly transmitted when a dog ingests infected matter, and once they infect a dog, they set up shop in the large intestine. Unlike other worms, they're not commonly seen in feces, which sometimes makes whipworm infections difficult to detect.
Treatment and Prevention of Worms
Treating a dog infected with intestinal worms is often simpler than you might think. By giving your pet a worming tablet, under your vet's advice, you should be able to get rid of those nasty little parasites. However, additional treatment may be required if your pet has developed related complications, for example, anemia.
Heartworm treatment is also a much more serious matter. Once heartworm disease has been diagnosed, your pet will need to be put on a restricted exercise regime until the disease has been successfully treated. Your vet will then start your pet on a once-monthly preventive to kill immature heartworms, and prescribe an antibiotic for 30 days to kill bacteria that live in the heartworms. Only then can your dog be given an adulticide to kill the adult heartworms.
As is so often the case, prevention is much better than cure when it comes to dog worms. Happily, prevention is easy.
Heartworm preventives are available as a once-a-month chewable, a once-a-month topical, and a twice-a-year injection. Some heartworm preventives are also effective against hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, and tapeworms, but you may also need to give your dog an intestinal wormer on a regular basis.
With a careful and committed approach, you can ensure that worms and all the potentially serious health problems they bring, will never be a problem for your dog.
Written by a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 02/01/2018, edited: 04/06/2020