Everyone loves spring, right? When it’s nice outside, you get to hike, golf, run, and sit on your deck on the weekends or after a long day at work. The days are brighter and longer, and it’s easier to just feel good when the sun is shining.
But do you know who else loves spring? Parasites. Frequently referred to as worms, parasites hibernate all winter, but are ready to infect your dog once it gets warmer..
Although most dogs contract worms at some point in their lives, they can receive treatment, build immunity to them, and live long, happy lives. But if the worms go undetected or untreated, they can cause serious sickness, lethargy, damage to your dog’s internal organs, or even death. Because of that, it’s important to know what they are and how you can protect your pup against them.
These are the 5 most prevalent worms found in dogs. If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms or if you see worms in her stool, take her to the vet immediately so she can be treated.
Heartworms are nasty little things that infect your pup through mosquito bites. When the mosquito bites your dog, it deposits heartworm larvae into the bloodstream where the larvae mature into adult heartworms over the next six months. And since heartworms can live for five to seven years inside your pup, if left untreated their numbers will multiply each year inside of him. Pretty gnarly, huh?
If your dog is coughing or tiring easily (especially if he’s usually pretty active), take him to the vet. Heartworm is harder to detect than other worms, so a vet will order a blood test to know for sure. Heartworm is arguably the most dangerous worm. If left untreated, expect high blood pressure, heart failure, and even death for Fido.
What is the treatment like if he has heartworm? His exercise will need to be limited, he may undergo therapy treatment to stabilize his condition, and then he will be given heartworm treatment. And although treating a dog with heartworm disease is possible, it is very expensive. Fortunately, heartworm prevention is easy and cheap. By maintaining regular checkups and vet visits and giving your dog preventative medication – as a monthly pill or topical – you can help keep him heartworm-free and your wallet full to buy treats and toys for him. Plus, if you give preventative medication to a dog with heartworm, it usually stops heartworm reproduction. So while he still has to live with the heartworms he already he has, he won’t get any more.
Hookworms are parasites that live in a dog’s small intestine, traveling along the intestinal wall and leaving bloody holes along the way. They’re often transmitted during nursing or by direct skin penetration, says Dr. Denise Petryk, DVM and in-house veterinarian for Trupanion, but their larvae can also be ingested. Larvae enter through the skin by migrating through the bloodstream to the lungs and throat and enter through ingestion if your dog eats dirty food, water, or feces, especially from an infected animal.
Symptoms include anemia, pale gums, poor growth, diarrhea, and, if the hookworms travel to the lungs, coughing. If you suspect your dog has hookworms, take her to the vet. Your vet will examine a stool sample and will prescribe deworming medication if the sample tests positive. Like heartworms, hookworms can easily be avoided through preventative medication. You can also keep your dog away from fecal matter and dirty environments to further aid in hookworm prevention.
Roundworms are round, long (up to seven inches long!) little buggers that live in your dog’s intestines. While any dog can contract roundworms, they’re most often found in puppies as they’re commonly passed from mother to child during the last leg of the mother’s pregnancy. Roundworms can also be transmitted when dogs eat dirt, vomit, feces, or rodents that have been infected with the larvae.
If you see roundworms in your dog’s feces (they look like spaghetti and are white to pale brown in color) or if your dog is vomiting, coughing, has diarrhea, or exhibiting trouble losing or putting on weight, you should take him to the vet for diagnosis and treatment. If roundworm is left untreated, the worms can stunt your dog’s growth, cause digestive problems, and even be fatal.
And if he does, in fact, have roundworms, expect deworming medication and monthly preventatives. To keep your pup from contracting roundworms, talk to your vet about preventatives and keep him away from feces and rodents.
Tapeworms are long, flat, disgusting worms that live in the small intestine and make you want to puke. Tapeworms can be contracted by eating infected animals or dirt, but Dr. Petryk says they’re most commonly contracted by ingesting fleas.
While they don’t cause much harm – they’re more of an irritant than a threat – if your dog is losing weight, vomiting, scooting, or itching around her butt, take her to the vet. Prescribed oral or injected medication will treat tapeworm. To prevent infection in the first place, keep her free from flea infestation and in safe, clean environments away from rodents and garbage.
Whipworms are pesky parasites that live in the large intestine of your dog and are transmitted by ingesting infected matter and can be present in soil, food or water. They’re especially dangerous because they can cause intestinal inflammation and bleeding and are harder to diagnose due to the fact that they shed few eggs and are not always obvious in dogs’ stool.
Dr. Petryk says symptoms include weight loss, anemia, diarrhea, or blood in the feces. If your dog is exhibiting any of those, take him to the vet where your vet will prescribe medication to destroy both the worms and larvae living within his body. To prevent whipworms from infecting your dog, keep him away from dirty kennels and dog parks and don’t let him feast on any feces or rodents.
With any worm or disease, prevention is key, but if it’s too late for that, take your dog to the vet the second you see any odd behavior or symptoms. The quicker you spot the problem and treat it, the easier it is on your pup (and wallet). By keeping your dog away from dirty environments and animals, giving him preventative medications, washing your hands after handling other animals (especially ones that are unfamiliar), and maintaining vet visits, you’ll be sure to keep him worm-free this spring.