Ah, the joys of dog ownership. A loving, furry face to greet you at the door every day, more cuddles than you can handle, and always an excuse to go for a walk on a nice day. There are also the chewed possessions, the dug-up petunias, pee and poop all over, and the fact that they will eat just about anything they find lying around. You can train your dog out of these behaviors, but I find that last one to be pretty tough, especially when Puppy is roaming free about the yard and away from direct supervision. Besides being nasty, eating dead animals (or god only knows what out of the weeds) is bad news because of the possibility of picking up worms. There are five worms that dogs often get: whipworm, tapeworm, roundworm, hookworm, and heartworm. All of them are bad for your dog’s health, heartworm being especially dangerous, so it’s important to watch for symptoms, and then get those nasty things out of Poochie’s insides.
Symptoms of Worms in Your Dog
- diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
- weight loss
- poor appearance
- worms visible in stool or vomit
- anal itching
- cough or trouble breathing (specific to heartworm)
Types of Worms
Whipworm: Difficult to diagnose, these are very small, have a thread-like appearance, are thicker at one end, and are not visible in stool. Whipworms feed off of blood and can cause anemia and dehydration.
Tapeworm: Contracted by ingesting infected fleas or lice. The tapeworm head latches on to the intestinal wall, then segments are formed containing eggs and are eventually released to be seen in stool. Segments are under one-quarter inch long, and the whole worm can get to possibly fifteen feet.
Roundworm: A more common worm in dogs, and many puppies are born with them. They are around two to four inches long and white or tan in color. Whole worms might be seen in stool or vomit.
Hookworm: Contracted through the skin, very small, and not visible in stool. Hookworms are a blood-sucking parasite, and can cause anemia from the internal wounds they inflict.
Heartworm: Passed to dogs through mosquitoes and take hold in, obviously, the heart. If undetected, they can kill your dog, as they choke blood flow and damage other organs. Signs may not show for several months after infection.
Treatment for Worms in Dogs
The best option when it comes to worms is to keep them out in the first place. Preventing worms from taking hold of Fluffy will not only keep her happy and healthy, but save you money at the vet and keep the gross-out factor low. A win-win situation! So make sure she doesn’t get into anything that might carry worms, because they need to be ingested to take hold. No poop and roadkill buffets, and keep fleas and other bugs off your dog as best you can. Heartworm is spread through mosquitoes, but monthly medication, like Heartgard, will keep your puppy in the clear.
Watch your dog for signs of possible parasites. If your pooch goes from a frolicking, happy dog to a listless, pooping, and/or vomiting machine, he just might have some worms. Also, watch for weight loss and an generally unhealthy appearance. Even though it’s gross, check out his stool for suspicious white rice-like things. Those are segments of tapeworm containing eggs. Sometimes, the signs aren’t there. My dog has had worms twice; the first time she looked pathetic, and the second she was perfectly fine except for the nasty egg sacs in her feces.
If you think your dog has worms, pay a visit to your vet. You’ve done your best to keep her healthy, but she went and infested herself with an intestinal parasite anyway. Your veterinarian can test your dog to find out exactly what kind of worm is eating her insides and then prescribe the right medication to kill that specific worm, as there is no one-size-fits-all dewormer. Whipworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and roundworms are detected through a stool sample and heartworms through blood.
To save some money, ask your veterinarian to skip the fecal test. If you are absolutely certain that your dog has tapeworm, for example, ask your vet if he or she is comfortable with just giving you the meds without testing Fido. Some friends of mine gave me this tip, and my vet is willing, but you may not have such luck with all clinics. Having a dog can get expensive, and everyone likes to save money when they can, especially if this becomes a common occurrence.
Getting your dog to take medicine can be a challenge. Every dog is different, some may not mind pills; others you may have to force feed. I just put them in with her food when she eats. If this fails, peanut butter will usually do the trick, or try your dog’s favorite treat. Otherwise, force-feeding may be necessary, and it’s never fun. Tilt your dog’s head back, place the pill in the back of the mouth, and close it. You may have to enlist someone to hold him down. It might be a battle, but it’s one that needs to happen.
Clean house. Hookworm and roundworm can be passed from animal to human. Fecal matter would have to be ingested, or in the case of hookworm, larvae can pass through the skin. It’s unlikely, but children are the most susceptible because their hygiene skills aren’t quite up to par, and they are also more likely to play with poop (where the eggs will be). So, if you find out your furry friend has these types of worms, thoroughly clean areas where your pet lives, especially if you have young kids. You don’t want your dog to re-infest herself with the things, either.
Natural versus Traditional Dewormers
Some advertised natural treatments for worms sound bogus to me, and others have some weight behind them, so don’t jump on every new natural remedy bandwagon without some research. Food-grade diatomaceous earth (and only food-grade!) is safe and can be mixed in with your dog’s food—one teaspoon per twenty-five pounds of your dog. Another option is ground-up pumpkin seeds along with similar amounts of wheat germ oil, also mixed with meals—¼ teaspoon per ten to twenty pounds. Treatments may take several weeks and may only affect minor worm problems, whereas traditional medication tends to act much more quickly and thoroughly. These only apply to intestinal parasites, so if your dog has heartworms, your veterinarian will have to gauge the severity of the infestation and treatment options. Fecal tests are also recommended to check that Rufus is back at his usual antics. Remember that your vet is most likely going to be your best bet for the most accurate deworming advice.