The idea that some parasite is wiggling around in your dog’s gut might give you chills as a dog owner, but unfortunately, it’s pretty common for dogs. Some weird and quirky activities that dogs love to engage in, like eating feces and licking each other’s ears, make them easily susceptible to parasitic worms.
In this guide, we will be discussing the various ways your dog can become a host to these worms and tips on how to prevent them.
Common Ways Dogs Get Worms
The various ways dogs get infected with worms include:
Ingesting Worm Eggs and Larvae
Parasitic worms like roundworms and whipworms work by depositing their eggs in the stool of their hosts. When the infected animal defecates into the ground, these eggs can contaminate the soil for a long period and survive harsh weather conditions.
If your dog enjoys playing in the yard or park, they can accidentally ingest these eggs by sniffing or licking the ground or eating dirt or grass. Larvae (tiny living worms) of Worms like hookworm can even burrow into your dog’s skin on close contact.
Additionally, your dog can also get infected indoors when you transfer egg-infected soil stuck under your shoes from the garden into your home.
Dogs are cute and cuddly, so most dog owners sometimes forget they are predators by nature. Though domesticated, some dog breeds still hearken to nature’s call.
So if your dog enjoys hunting or scavenging, they could get worms from other infected animals like rodents, birds, earthworms, and even insects like roaches that have eaten parasitic eggs. Interestingly, worm eggs do not develop into adult worms in these animals; instead, they hibernate.
However, when they make their way into your dog’s system, they become active and develop into adult worms.
From Mothers to Their Puppies
Unborn puppies could get infected with roundworms when passed from an infected mother’s blood to the womb through the placenta. Hookworms and roundworms found in the mammary of nursing dogs can also be transmitted to their pups while breastfeeding.
Mosquitoes are notorious for being vectors of several diseases, and one of those includes transmitting heartworms between animals such as cats, foxes, coyotes, and other mammals. Unlike humans with an Immune system sophisticated enough to isolate and kill off heartworm larvae before they mature, your furry buddy isn’t so lucky.
Tapeworms spend part of their life cycle in fleas and spend the remaining in bigger animals such as dogs. When your unsuspecting dog gets bitten by an infected flea. It licks the itchy area in an attempt to soothe the pain, and it could accidentally swallow the flea and get infected with tapeworm.
Fortunately for you, unless you swallow a flea directly, your chances of getting infected with tapeworms via your dog or flea bite are zero to none.
A Dog and its companion dog would groom each other as a show of affection and care, but sometimes the reward for this altruism is not always positive. Roundworm eggs stuck in the coat of one dog can be licked and swallowed by another in the process of grooming. Your dog can also reinfect itself when self-grooming.
Symptoms of Parasitic Worms in Dogs
As a dog owner, it’s essential that you pay attention and take note of changes in your dog to catch early signs of worm infection. Here are some of the symptoms to look out for:
- Substantial increase and decrease in diet resulting in weight loss
- Pot Bellied appearance
- Chronic coughing
- Diarrhea/Chronic soft stools
- Loss of coat fur and followed by skin inflammation/irritation
- Presence of tiny grain-like roundworms in dogs’ poop
- Sighting of tapeworm segments attached to the skin or fur around the anus.
Note: the above symptoms can also signify several other illnesses. Hence it’s vital that you contact your veterinarian when you notice these symptoms. Go along with a fecal sample in case your dog has diarrhea or is vomiting, so your vet can screen for parasitic worms.
How to Prevent your Dog from Getting Worms
Worms are common in dogs, but luckily several preventive measures can be initiated to curb the risk of contracting and spreading them amongst your canine and human family. Here are some preventative tips:
- Ensure you take your puppies for the necessary treatment when they are 3 weeks old.
- Examine your dog’s Stools 2-4 times a year depending on factors like feeding and hunting habits and geographical location.
- Adopt a monthly dog worm preventive medication and administer it all year round as prescribed by your vet. For example, you can prevent heartworms by administering medications like Heartgard plus chew for dogs.
- Treat nursing mothers alongside their pups just in case you missed anything during the last fecal examination.
- Detect symptoms early and be proactive by using a broad-spectrum dewormer for dogs.
- Rather than leave your dog’s poop to decay in the yard, come up with hygienic and environmentally friendly ways of fecal disposal.
- Keep your dog and its immediate environment clean.
How are Dog Worms are Treated
Dog worms are quite responsive to treatment as long as they are detected, deterred, and treated before it reaches an advanced level of infestation. Your vet would help you prescribe the appropriate dewormer based on the specific worm and the degree of infestation.
- For tapeworms in dogs, the drug works by slicing into bits the tapeworms in the intestinal tract. Flea treatment and prevention like flea collars are recommended.
- Roundworms: the drug administered will sever the worms from the intestinal tract, and it will be passed alongside the excreta (feces). To be double sure, it often requires at least one additional treatment in about 3-4 weeks after the first one.
- Hookworms: the drug targets and kills only adult hookworms. Additional treatment will be required in about two weeks after the previous one to target baby worms that must have matured by then.
- Ringworms: treatment usually involves lime-sulfur dips, shampoos, antifungal medications, and the shaving/exposure of severely affected areas.
- Whipworms: first, your vet will prescribe medications to be administered at 3-4 weeks intervals and later adjust to an interval of 3-4 months to help avoid reinfestation.
- Heartworms: based on the degree of the infestation, treatment could include injectable and oral medications, special diets, antibiotics, diuretics to regulate the accumulation of fluids, and sustained prescription of heart medications in severe cases.
Note: consult your vet before administering or purchasing any over-the-counter drugs for your dog.
It’s recommended that puppies are placed on monthly heartworm prevention after the initial treatment at 3 weeks of age to help inhibit intestinal parasite infection. This will kickstart an annual deworming for your puppy under the supervision of your vet.
Can You Get Worms From Your Dog
Humans can also be susceptible to parasitic worms like roundworms and hookworms. This happens more often when children play with and accidentally ingest contaminated soil. Here’s how humans can be exposed to worms through their dogs:
One of the most common ways humans contract roundworms through their dogs is by coming in contact with infected dog poop. Technically, humans can contract roundworms from petting their dogs, in a case where the dog’s fur is embedded with roundworm eggs or larvae.
Humans can contract hookworms when they expose their bare skins to contaminated feces or soil. Walking barefooted and, in some cases lying on your bareback are examples of how hookworms can gain access to the human system.
When the bare skin comes in contact with hookworm larvae, it could cause a skin condition called “cutaneous larva migrans”. In rare instances, hookworms can also thrive and grow to maturity in the human intestines. This can result in persistent and repetitive episodes of cramping and abdominal pain.
Humans can’t contract tapeworms from their dogs. Like their dogs, they contract tapeworms when they accidentally swallow infected fleas or consume meat from an infected animal.
Whipworms from dogs aren’t generally considered a zoonotic threat to humans because the canine whipworm is species-specific.
How to Protect Yourself from Zoonotic Diseases
- Don’t allow feces to come in contact with your bare skin. Ensure you wash your hands frequently, particularly after touching animals.
- Reduce the risk of food contamination by following proper food handling procedures
- Avoid coming in contact with animals that could transmit these infections if you have weak immunity.
It’s essential to know the ways your dog can get infected with worms, so you know how to protect them. Most of the tips discussed above on preventing worms will help keep your dogs healthy and safe from parasitic worms.
Remember to notify your vet if you notice any unusual behavior in your dog. Prevention is better than cure!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock.com
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