Dogs will naturally eat almost anything that they find including spoiled meat, and food items, other dog waste and even waste from other animals. In this diet of less than sanitary foods most dogs will routinely get worms, small parasites that live in the intestines and other parts of the body throughout their lifecycle. Worms are very bad for a dog as they tend to weaken the dog's overall health, immune system, and ability to recover from sickness and disease. Worms can also be passed from a pregnant female to her puppies before they are born.
While it is impossible to prevent your dog from ever getting worms, it is simple and easy to regularly treat your dog for worms. Over the counter worming tablets, pastes, powders and liquids are relatively ineffective and typically only treat roundworms, which are the least serious of all the types of worms that dogs may have. To really treat all parasitic worms it is important to use vet prescribed medications and to never combine worming medications or use worming medications for other animals. Vet prescribed wormers are not toxic to the dog when used in the proper dosage, rather they simply anesthetize the worms, causing them to let go of the digestive tract walls and be eliminated from the body with the fecal material. It is removal from the body and the exposure to the oxygen, light and inhospitable environment that actually kills the worms. Many worms do lay eggs that live in the soil, so be aware the infestations can continue to occur in the same area even if the dog does not currently have worms.
A dog can be infected with more than one type of worm at the same time. Roundworms and tapeworms can typically be identified by a visual examination of the dog's stool or the area around the anus, however some of the small, almost invisible worms that are the most deadly can only be identified with a microscopic examination of the stool. Since some worms require special medication for treatment it is important for the vet to first determine which, if any, worms are present before starting treatment. Most vets will ask for the owner to bring in a fresh stool sample for testing during the yearly vaccination and health check. This allows the vet to check for any microscopic infestations or worms that may be present but not visible.
The various types of worms that are found in dogs include:
There are small and large roundworms that can reach up to several inches in length when fully grown. They are either passed from the pregnant female to the puppies during gestation or lactation, or they are eaten by the puppy though licking or eating dirt that is contaminated with roundworm eggs. The eggs are swallowed into the stomach and then move to the intestines where they grow. Typically roundworms are most problematic in puppies and can lead to a pot bellied appearance, vomiting, diarrhea and bloody stools. The worms may be seen in the vomit or fecal material as thin, white strands that will yellow and discolor upon exposure to the air. As the roundworms mature to larva stages they are carried from the intestines to the lungs through the blood. The larva then develop and become more mobile in the lungs, crawling into the windpipe and back down in the stomach when the puppy coughs. At this time they attach to the intestine walls and begin to lay eggs to continue the cycle. It is not uncommon for one roundworm to lay over 200 eggs per day, which, once out of the dog's body can live safely in the soil for several years until eaten by a puppy.
Tapeworms are usually identified by small particles attached to the dog or puppies anus that look like little grains of white or brown rice. These particles are actually small, shed sections of the tapeworm. These segments also contain eggs, which can keep the cycle going. Tapeworms cannot be controlled by over the counter medications and can lead to severe anemia and weight loss in puppies and dogs. They are introduced into the dog through the dog eating or biting fleas that are carrying tapeworm eggs.
These are very nasty, tiny, blood sucking parasites that can actually lead to death and severe health problems in puppies and dogs, especially adult dogs with other health conditions. The hookworms are particularly problematic in that they can be passed from dogs to people by walking on soil contaminated with the hookworm or by coming in contact with contaminated materials such as dirt and dog waste materials. Since kids are not usually careful about washing their hands after handling a dog or puppy, they are most likely to become infected. Hookworms require special treatment so be sure to check with the vet and do not attempt to treat with over the counter medications.
Whipworms are very tiny worms that live at the first section of the intestines and are almost impossible to detect. They are usually not as serious as the other worms but will lead to weight loss, decrease in energy and overall poor condition for the dog. They are very difficult to detect and treat but some heartworm medications will also work to control the whipworm if present.
Be sure to talk to your kids and your family about being careful about washing your hands after playing with a dog, not letting the dog lick the face area as well as avoiding any contaminated areas of the yard. Dog owners should keep all fecal material picked up and enclosed in sealed plastic bags to prevent any possible re-contamination. Regular worming is recommended every three to four months, more if the dog is exposed to lots of other dogs on a regular basis or any of the signs or symptoms of worm infestations become apparent. Dogs with chronic health conditions, pregnant and nursing females, as well as puppies and senior dogs are at the greatest risk for complications due to worm problems so these dogs should be carefully checked and treated on a regular basis.