If you discover that your dog is suffering from intestinal worms, you shouldn’t panic. Worms are one of the most common parasitic diseases that dogs and puppies will catch.
They’re easy to treat and are normally not life threatening, but they can lead to more serious health complications if not removed quickly.
Puppies are at particular risk from intestinal worms and are more likely to become infected than older dogs. Worms can cause serious health problems for puppies by depriving them of the nutrients they need to grow and develop into healthy adult dogs.
Dogs are the perfect hosts for worms and other parasites. To prevent infections, dogs need regular check-ups with their vet; while dog owners need to recognise the symptoms and causes of worm infestations.
How do dogs become infected by worms?
Dogs can become infected with intestinal worms in different ways but the most common are:
- Eating worm eggs found in contaminated soil
- Transmission from a mother to a puppy through her milk
- Transmission during pregnancy from a mother to her unborn puppy
- Contaminated animal faeces (poop) from outside
- Infected fleas which be eaten by dogs
- Killing or eating dead animals such as rodents, birds and insects (slugs, earthworms, cockroaches) that are carrying worm eggs
How can I tell if my dog has worms?
It can be difficult to spot the signs of worms in the early stages of infection. When dogs do become infected, they will typically show some of the following signs:
- Weakness and listlessness
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss despite an increased appetite
- Diarrhoea or vomiting
- Swollen belly
- Dry coat
- Scooting (when your dog rubs their bottom on the floor)
- Licking their rear
- Signs of infection in a puppy’s poop (faeces) such as spaghetti-like worms, rice-like grains, mucus or blood
What type of worms do dogs get?
There are four common types of intestinal worms in dogs, they are: Hookworms, Roundworms, Tapeworms and Whipworms.
Roundworms are the most common of the parasitic worms found inside dogs and can lead to serious health problems.
They can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain and weight loss. Dogs can become more lethargic along with developing what looks like a potbelly. Infected dogs pass Roundworm eggs out into their poop that look like spaghetti which then find their way into the soil.
Roundworms are particularly threatening to puppies because they can stunt their growth depriving them of the vital nutrients needed for their development into adulthood.
Tapeworms live inside a dog’s intestines. They are white, flat and around 6 inches long. Most people rarely see a full-sized adult Tapeworm, but they are normally seen as broken-off pieces that look like grains of rice in a dog’s poop. They’re not as harmful as Roundworms but can still cause weight loss for dogs.
Dogs normally become infected with Tapeworms from fleas which they often accidently eat. These infected fleas spread the parasite which leads to worms. A typical sign that a dog has Tapeworms include scooting which involves a dog dragging its bottom across the ground – this is caused by the irritation the broken off pieces cause to its skin.
Hookworms are short blood sucking parasites that live in the digestive system of dogs. Hookworms are not common in the UK but are present in Europe. They have a hook that attaches to the intestinal lining and feeds on a dog’s blood which can cause anaemia.
They can’t be seen with the naked eye and are diagnosed through a vet examination. Hookworms can be especially dangerous for puppies who may not survive the loss of blood without a transfusion.
A Hookworm’s eggs are ejected into a dog’s digestive tract and pass into the environment through a dog’s poop. Dogs typically pick up hookworm larvae from the soil, through their mouth or through the skin on their pads. If a dog is vomiting or has diarrhoea it can be a sign of Hookworms. Other symptoms include anaemia, weakness, lethargy and pale gums.
Whipworms are not as common in the UK as other intestinal worms. They live in the large intestine of dogs and get their name from their shape. They have one end which is tapered and looks like a whip.
This thicker end embeds itself in the intestinal wall as the worm matures. This causes irritation and discomfort for infected dogs and is particularly dangerous for puppies. Adult Whipworms lay their eggs in the large intestine, where they are passed into a dog’s poop to infect the environment. Signs of Whipworms include diarrhoea, vomiting and weight loss.
Can worms in dogs infect humans?
Humans can catch intestinal worms from dogs, but this is rare and unusual. The most common parasite passed from dogs to humans are Hookworms, but this is more prevalent in children rather than adults.
How to treat and prevent worms in dogs
Vets will diagnose whether your dog has worms by performing a microscopic examination on their stool specimen (poop).
If it’s found your dog does have worms, there are different types of deworming medication available which prevent and treat intestinal parasites.
They can be administered by injection, tablet or through spot-on treatments. Different worms may need different treatments and dog owners should always speak with their vets who can tell them which wormers are best for their pet.
One single treatment will not completely get rid of all the worms in a dog’s body. A regular de-worming treatment is essential, especially for puppies. They should be dewormed routinely, starting at about two weeks of age and repeated regularly for the next few months.
As dogs get older and reach adulthood some may need worming more often than others. This can depend upon their lifestyle; for example, a farm dog may need to be wormed more frequently than household dogs.
Dogs that appear healthy can still carry worms which is why it’s important to worm dogs regularly.
Alongside regular de-worming treatment, dog owners should maintain a healthy diet which will help build a strong immune system to fight off any infections.
Dog owners also need to be aware of the environment in which their dogs are spending time in. Dogs inevitably like to put different things in their mouth. It’s important to keep a dog’s surroundings clean and to prevent them spending time in areas that may be contaminated – this can reduce the risk of worm infections being picked up. Flea preventative treatment is also important as fleas are the most common way of contracting Tapeworms.
Worms can cause discomfort and irritation for dogs when they become infected and prevention is certainly the best course of action for dog owners.