Dog Worms and Deworming: The Basics

You might be surprised to discover how common dog worms are in the environment. In fact, some sources say most dogs - even healthy dogs - host a low level of worms nearly all the time. After all, your dog goes outside, may eat questionable substances on occasion, and might be known to roll in smelly areas (say it isn't so!). Since dog worms are often found in the dirt (or in whatever else is in the dirt - ew!) or are transmitted by fleas and mosquitoes, it's not surprising that dogs often have worms.

What you might find surprising is that your dog could have these parasites curled up in their intestines and they may not show any symptoms of illness. However, a bad case of worms can leave your dog with a lack of appetite, lethargy, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), vomiting, and weight loss. Some of them can even kill your furry friend if they aren't treated. Because of these things, your veterinarian will encourage you to have a fecal analysis done on your pet every year to discover and treat any worms that might be setting up house in your dog (or more often, if your dog is displaying telltale symptoms).

You may wonder why it's important to diagnose and treat worms that aren't causing problems. First, the worms can cause problems in the future, even if they aren't currently. Second, you can contract some of them, too - but not just from your dog! You can also pick them up from the environment.


The Types of Dog Worms

There are five types of dog worms. These include hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, whipworms, and heartworms. These are all internal parasites that your dog can pick up through daily life. If your dog has one of these types of worms, your veterinarian will confirm by evaluating his/her stool or a blood sample and then recommending the appropriate treatment. While there are some over-the-counter deworming medicines available, they aren't reliable. Additionally, different medicines treat different kinds of worms. Your veterinarian will be able to prescribe the proper medicine at the right dose to take care of your dog's worm problem.



Hookworms are a common parasite that hook into the small intestine and suck blood. As a result, they commonly cause anemia, bloody diarrhea, and weight loss in the dogs they infect. Hookworm infections can be fatal to puppies and are a common cause of chronic illness in older dogs. Unfortunately, hookworms are easily acquired. They can be picked up by contact with contaminated soil or grass (particularly when it's wet), through nursing, or from eating contaminated soil or feces. They also thrive in warm, moist environments, so they're particularly common here in the Gulf South! Additionally, hookworms are easily acquired by humans - either from the environment or from your dog. Luckily, once diagnosed, they're relatively easily treated. However, they're very tiny, so you probably won't see them in your dog's stool - a microscopic examination of it at your vet's office will be necessary.



Roundworms are the most common parasitic worm found in dogs, and virtually every puppy wellness exam includes a deworming process for them. The reason for this is that roundworms (like hookworms) can be passed during nursing (as well as in utero). Additionally, roundworms can be found in contaminated soil and feces, both of which some dogs are apt to eat. These dog worms can cause serious infection if left untreated. Symptoms include colic, vomiting, lethargy, and a swollen tummy among other issues. Severe infestations, particularly in puppies, can be fatal. Like hookworms, humans can also contract roundworms. Unlike hookworms, though, you may see these worms in your dog's stool or vomit (though you won't always). 



Named because of their appearance, tapeworms are long, flat parasites, and, if you have a dog or cat, you're almost certainly familiar with these worms. Tapeworms are segmented, and you may see segments caught in your dog’s fur around the anus. They may look like grains of rice. One of the most common ways that they’re transmitted is through fleas. Fleas swallow the worm larvae; your dog can ingest the flea, and thus the tapeworm, during self-grooming. Tapeworm eggs can also live in infected soil. So your dog could ingest them by licking his paws after a walk, though it is much more likely s/he will get them from fleas. Therefore, the most effective way to prevent tapeworms is to control and prevent fleas.  Many dogs won't show symptoms of a tapeworm infestation, though others will develop abdominal pain, vomiting, and other symptoms. If you see what appears to be grains of rice in your dog's stool, tell your veterinarian. S/he can prescribe something to get rid of them!


Dog Deworming - Outdoor Risks


Like the other worms, whipworms can also live in infected soil or soil contaminated with dog feces. In order to be infected by these worms, your dog will need to consume their eggs from the soil (or other substances). Once infected, it's unlikely you'll see any evidence in Fido's stool, and they may or may not cause any overt illness. Severe infestations, though, can cause bloody diarrhea and, if left untreated, sometimes death.  These worms are a good argument for always getting the fecal examination done at Fido's annual (or semi-annual) exam! Of course, if you do see any signs of illness, don't wait - call your vet!



You probably don't need to be told twice about heartworms, particularly if you live in the South where mosquitoes are a problem year-round. Whether your dog has a prescription for heartworm prevention or s/he gets a bi-annual Proheart injection to prvent them, you know how important prevention is. That's because heartworms are extremely dangerous and, if left untreated, fill your dog's heart and lung area. Transmitted by infected mosquitos, they're very common. Unlike the other worms described, heartworms are detected via a blood test (required annually), which will be necessary before beginning any heartworm preventive regimen. If your dog is infected, heartworm disease causes lethargy, coughing and other respiratory difficulties, and - eventually - heart failure leading to death. Luckily, heartworms are easily prevented with monthly pills or bi-annual injections. Prevention is the best medicine with heartworms, as treatment for them is lengthy, costly, and not without risk.


How to Protect You and Your Dog From Dog Worms

As you can see, it’s tough for your dog to avoid worms completely since they tend to live in the dirt or are transmitted via flea or mosquito. To protect your dog and your home from intestinal worms, you can wipe down your dog’s paws when you come in from walks. Even just a quick wipe with a damp cloth can help reduce your dog's exposure to larvae. Additionally, always wash your hands thoroughly after petting or cleaning up after your dog to prevent transmitting them to you. Of course, sometimes our best efforts aren't quite enough, so be sure to have your veterinarian do a fecal exam every year to make sure Fido hasn't caught any free-loaders! 


If your dog exhibits appetite loss, lethargy, extreme diarrhea, or distended belly, or any of the symptoms of heartworm disease, make an appointment to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. A simple test will show if dog worms are the problem, and then they can be treated.  If you have any questions or need to schedule an appointment, give us a call or fill out our online form!




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