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Intestinal Parasites in Dogs – The Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention Tips

dog that is free from intestinal parasites

Have you ever wondered why your veterinarian examines a sample of your dog’s feces during the annual health checkup? If you have, it’s because dogs’ feces contain intestinal parasites that can cause discomfort and a wide range of health problems if they’re not detected early and eliminated altogether.

Unlike external parasites (such as ticks) that are clearly visible on the dog’s body, intestinal parasites can be inside your pooch without you realizing it. The most common types of intestinal parasites affecting dogs include tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms.

Out of these, only tapeworms and roundworms are visible to the naked eye.

Hookworms and whipworms, on the other hand, are so small that they can only be detected with the help of a microscope. Let’s talk about each of these parasites individually:

What Are Tapeworms?

Tapeworms are flat, segmented intestinal parasites found in the small intestines of dogs, cats, and other animals. There are different species of tapeworms, but the most common one affecting dogs is Dipylidium caninum.

These parasites may be disgusting to look at, but it’s your responsibility as a dog owner to know how to recognize the signs of tapeworm infestation so your dog can be treated early. The good news is that tapeworms are among the easiest intestinal parasites to identify and treat.

How Dogs Get Tapeworms

Tapeworms are transmitted to dogs when they ingest a host harboring tapeworm eggs.

This host is usually an adult flea. Dogs can ingest adult fleas when grooming themselves, grooming feline or canine housemates, scavenging for food in the garbage, or hunting and eating wild animals infested with fleas.

Once the fleas get into your dog’s small intestine, tapeworm eggs continue developing into adults. The typical length of an adult tapeworm can be anywhere from 4-28 inches. If you look at an adult tapeworm closely, you’ll notice that there’s a head at one end and several tiny segments making the rest of the body.

As tapeworm eggs mature into adults, part of their segments break off into your dog’s stool. Because these segments have tapeworm eggs, the cycle will start all over again, most likely with a new host and a new recipient.

Symptoms of Tapeworms in Dogs

Tapeworm segments resemble rice grains and are usually visible in a dog’s stool or vomit. They can also be seen on the fur around his anus, as well as in places where he likes to rest. You may notice your pooch licking his anus or dragging his bottom across the floor. This is his way of dealing with the irritation and discomfort caused by tapeworm segments.

Other telltale signs of tapeworm infestation include diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, distended or swollen stomach, dull coat, and weight loss (despite your dog eating normally). Have your pet examined by a professional vet as soon as you notice any of these signs in him.

Diagnosing and Treating Tapeworms in Dogs

After proper diagnosis, the vet will likely prescribe oral medications or an injection to eliminate tapeworms from your dog’s body. Make sure you follow all the instructions given when administering the prescribed medications.

Inform your vet of any drugs or supplements your dog is taking at the moment. This will help him decide on the best treatment plan for your canine companion and reduce the risk of a drug interaction.

How to Prevent Dogs from Getting Tapeworms

Here are some steps you can take to prevent tapeworm infestation:

  • Provide regular flea treatment to your dog to protect him from fleas in his indoor and outdoor surroundings.
  • Take your dog for regular veterinary health visits.
  • Clean up your dog’s feces properly and immediately in parks, playgrounds, and other public spaces.
  • Don’t let your pet roam freely without supervision. This reduces his chances of eating dead wild animals or eating from the garbage.

Since children can easily get tapeworms when they swallow soil or dog feces containing tapeworm eggs, you shouldn’t let them play in areas known to have feces from dogs and other animals.

After playing outdoors or playing with cats and dogs, ensure that your kids thoroughly wash their hands with soap and running water.

Roundworms in Dogs

Nearly all dogs get roundworms at a certain point in their lives. However, they’re more common in puppies than in adult dogs. The two main roundworm species affecting dogs are Toxascaris leonine and Toxocara canis. The latter species can be transmitted to human beings and often causes more serious illnesses than the former.

Adult roundworms reside in the intestinal tract of dogs, where they eat partially digested food. This often leads to malnourishment, especially in puppies whose immune systems aren’t fully developed.

Infected dogs can have very high numbers of roundworms in their intestines, giving them a pot-bellied appearance. But that’s not all. Severe roundworm infestation can also cause intestinal blockage, intestinal rapture, or even death if treatment isn’t done on time.

How Dogs Get Roundworms

The most common ways through which dogs get roundworms include:

From the Mother

A good number of puppies are born with roundworms in their tissues, while others get infected right after birth. Roundworm larvae can migrate from the mother’s tissues to the puppies’ tissues while they’re still developing in the uterus. Puppies can also get infected with roundworm larvae from their mother’s milk while nursing. Once they’re inside the puppy, roundworm larvae settle in the intestinal tract where they continue growing into adult worms.

From the Environment

Both adult dogs and puppies can get roundworms when they ingest roundworm eggs from the surrounding environment. Roundworm eggs can be found in the poop or vomit of other animals, on plants, or in the soil.

From Hunting and Eating Infected Animals

Small animals such as earthworms, mice, rats, birds, and insects can also carry roundworm eggs. If your dog hunts and eats infected animals, the roundworm eggs inside them can get transferred into your dog’s body. Once inside the body, the eggs activate and continue growing into adults.

Symptoms of Roundworm Infestation in Dogs

It’s possible for your dog to be infected with roundworms without exhibiting any symptoms. However, most cases of roundworms are accompanied by symptoms such as:

Coughing – The roundworm larvae in your dog’s body can migrate to the lungs, causing respiratory problems such as coughing and pneumonia.

Pot-bellied appearance – Without treatment, roundworms can grow and multiply very quickly in your dog’s intestines, causing him to have a protruding belly.

Roundworms Visible in Vomit or Stool – Roundworms are usually visible in a dog’s vomit or stool. Seeing these large, white, or cream spaghetti-like worms for the first time can be quite shocking, but don’t panic. Make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible so your dog can be examined and treated properly.

Diarrhea or Vomiting – It’s possible for roundworms to cause digestive problems like diarrhea and vomiting in dogs.

Malnourishment – By feeding on partially digested food in the intestines, roundworms deprive your dog of the nutrients he needs to stay healthy and strong. This can lead to severe malnutrition, weakness, weight loss, and stunted growth.

Diagnosing and Treating Roundworms in Dogs

The vet will most likely examine a sample of your dog’s poop under the microscope to determine if there are roundworm eggs in it. If eggs are present, he will prescribe specific deworming drugs to kill adult roundworms, their larvae, and eggs.

Be sure to take your dog for regular fecal exams after completing the treatment successfully so that any new cases can be dealt with right away. Adult dogs should get two fecal exams a year, while puppies need between two and four fecal exams per year.

Preventing Roundworms in Dogs

Some of the things you can do to prevent roundworm infestation include:

– Keeping your dog in a fenced yard or on a leash to stop him from roaming freely and eating wild animals that may be infected with roundworms.

– If you have a pregnant dog, ask your vet for a deworming solution to prevent the roundworms in the dog’s tissues from being passed to the developing puppies. Once the puppies are born, you should also deworm them regularly every few weeks to get rid of roundworms they may get from their mother during nursing.

– Keep the areas where your dog sleeps, eats, and plays clean. This includes cleaning up after him right away when he poops or vomits.

Hookworms in Dogs

Hookworms are intestinal parasites with hook-like mouthpieces. They use these mouthpieces to literally hook themselves into intestinal linings of dogs and suck blood from the blood vessels in these linings. Hookworms may be tiny and thin, but their act of sucking blood causes dogs, especially puppies, to develop severe anemia and, eventually, death if treatment isn’t done immediately.

Because of this, knowing how to identify the symptoms of hookworm infestation and seeking professional help can go a long way in saving your dog’s life.

How Dogs Get Hookworms

Dogs can get hookworms through different ways, including:

From the Mother – Just like in roundworms, puppies can acquire hookworms from their mothers while still developing in the uterus, or shortly after birth during nursing.

Contaminated Environment – Both adult dogs and puppies can also get hookworms when they drink water contaminated water, groom their paws, or eat contaminated feces or soil.

Skin Contact – Unsuspecting dogs lying on soil contaminated with hookworm larvae can also be infected when the larvae burrow into their skin.

Symptoms of Hookworms in Dogs

Dogs with hookworm infestation can exhibit a wide range of symptoms, including coughing, loss of appetite, progressive weakness, weight loss, bloody diarrhea, anemia, pale gums, poor stamina, poor growth, and death.

Diagnosing and Treating Hookworms in Dogs

Since hookworms are so small that they cannot be seen with the naked eye, your vet will examine your dog’s feces under a microscope for the presence of hookworm eggs. If the results come back positive, the vet will prescribe a deworming medication to kill these blood-sucking parasites and their eggs.

Sometimes, this is all your dog requires to get well. But in other cases, iron and nutritional supplements may be necessary as well. Dogs with very severe cases of anemia may require hospitalization for a blood transfusion, supplemental oxygen, or fluid therapy depending on their condition.

Preventing Hookworms in Dogs

Protecting your dog from being re-infected is a crucial part of hookworm treatment. You can do so by:

  • Cleaning up your dog’s feces immediately before hookworm larvae in the feces infect the surrounding environment.
  • Maintain proper hygiene by cleaning and disinfecting your yards and runs regularly.
  • Have your dog put on a monthly hookworm preventative to protect him from these blood-sucking parasites.
  • Ask your vet about putting your newborn puppies and pregnant bitches on regular deworming medication.
  • Keep your dog from roaming or playing on grounds with large amounts of fecal matter from dogs and other animals.
  • Since these parasites thrive in warm and moist environments such as in overcrowded kennels, you may want to avoid taking your canine companion to such facilities.

Whipworms in Dogs

Whipworms are intestinal parasites that live in the large intestines (in the cecum and colon) of dogs. They have a thick end on one side of their bodies and a long, thin end resembling a whip on the other side. It’s the thicker end that they use to attach themselves to the lining of the intestinal walls as they grow and mature. It’s important to note that whipworms rarely cause death in dogs, but they can be a real nuisance to your pooch in large numbers, causing discomfort and irritation.

How Dogs Get Whipworms

Whipworms are usually transmitted to dogs when they ingest water, soil, food, animal feces, or animal flesh containing whipworm eggs. Once ingested, the eggs hatch and mature into adults inside the large intestines where they attach themselves to feed and lay eggs.

The eggs are then passed onto the dog’s feces into the environment, where they either re-infect the former host or get a new host to continue the cycle.

Symptoms of Whipworms in Dogs

It’s not always easy to know if your dog has whipworms since some infected dogs remain asymptomatic, mostly in the early stages of the infestation. Because of this, having your dog’s stool tested regularly for intestinal parasites is crucial if you want to protect him from whipworms.

Some whipworm symptoms you should watch out for include diarrhea, anemia, bloody stool, dehydration, and chronic weight loss. These symptoms can greatly reduce your dog’s quality of life if they’re not dealt with right away. So, you should call your vet as soon as you notice any of the symptoms in your pooch.

Diagnosing Whipworms in Dogs

Whipworm diagnosis is done by examining a dog’s stool sample under the microscope. However, because adult whipworms shed fewer eggs, which are passed irregularly onto the dog’s stool, the first fecal examination may not find any whipworms. Your vet will most likely carry out several examinations to enable him to get an accurate diagnosis.

Treating Whipworms in Dogs

If whipworm eggs are present in your dog’s stool, the vet will prescribe a deworming medication that will not only kill the worms and their eggs but also alleviate your pet’s symptoms.

The active ingredients in many whipworm deworming medications include oxantel, febantel, milbemycin, fenbendazole, and moxidectin. You’re advised to follow all the instructions given when administering the prescribed drugs to ensure that all eggs are eliminated from your dog’s system.

Preventing Whipworms in Dogs

After successful treatment, it’s important to continue implementing these tips to prevent future whipworm infections and reinfections:

– Maintain proper hygiene by cleaning up after your dog immediately to prevent whipworm eggs in the feces from being passed to the surrounding environment. Don’t forget to thoroughly cleanse and disinfect the yards and runs regularly.

– Ask your vet to prescribe a monthly whipworm preventative to protect your pet from these parasites. Many heartworm preventatives today are also very effective in preventing whipworm infections in dogs.

– Keep your dog in a fenced yard or on a leash to stop him from roaming freely and ingesting food, soil, water, animal feces, or dead animal flesh containing whipworm eggs.

– Avoid placing your canine companion in crowded or closed facilities with other dogs.

– Get rid of all warm and moist areas in your home to destroy whipworm eggs that may be in the environment.

Overall, intestinal parasites are easy to treat if they’re identified early, so don’t wait until your dog starts showing signs of infection. Take your dog for regular fecal exams and practice the above-suggested prevention tips to keep your furry friend healthy and happy.

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