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Dog Owner's Guide to Canine Worms

Canine worms are nasty little critters which come in a variety of sizes and descriptions.

Many puppies are born with roundworms or are infected with them when nursing.

Adult dogs can 'catch' worms in a number of different ways.

Puppy who may have canine worms

Puppies need to be dewormed several times during their first few months of life and adult dogs should be dewormed annually - even if there are no signs of a worm problem.

Dog worms multiply and grow rapidly, and a few of them can turn into quite an army in a pretty short space of time.

It's also possible for some types of dog worms to be passed onto human family members, particularly children.

About Canine Worms

Worms in dogs normally affect either the intestinal tract or the heart.

Intestinal dog worms steal all the nutrition that should be going to your puppy or dog.

They can cause a variety of different symptoms and a severe infestation can be deadly.

Different types of canine worms in include: 

  • Ringworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Whipworms 
  • Hookworms

Then there are Canine Heartworms.

As their name suggests these worms affect your dog's heart and are always deadly if not caught early and treated properly.

This is why heartworm prevention is so very important for puppies and dogs of all ages.

What about Ringworm?

Well Ringworm is NOT caused by worms at all, it's a fungal infection which affects your dog's skin.

It is very contagious and can even be passed from one species to another, this includes being passed to humans.

Prompt and appropriate treatment can eradicate the fungus.


Here's a look at the most common types of worms in dogs including symptoms of each kind of worm infestation....

Types of Canine Worms

Roundworms

Roundworms are the most common type of dog worms.

They can be transmitted from mother to puppy in utero or through mother's milk.

Adult dogs can get them from contact/ingesting feces of another pup/dog infected with roundworms.

Symptoms of a dog roundworm infestation can include:

  • A thin, scrawny (or skinny) appearance
  • A round, distended tummy
  • Digestive upset - diarrhea, vomiting, flatulence
  • Extreme hunger or unusual loss of appetite
  • Cough
  • Lethargy

Roundworms can usually be easily seen in Fido's stools, and if he has a lot of roundworms he may even vomit or cough up worms too. Not nice.

Roundworms can be 'caught' by people too, and children are especially at risk because they're not known for their effective hand washing techniques!

It's really important to make sure that your family members always wash their hands after playing with, or handling, your new puppy.

Although you can buy over-the-counter worm medicines at many pet stores or superstores, many of them are ineffective and can even be dangerous.

In most cases it's best to have your veterinarian deworm your puppy, or prescribe medication for you to give him at home.

But there are a few dog worm medicines which you can buy and use yourself.

Tapeworms

Tapeworms are another very common type of dog worms. There is more than one type of tapeworm.

Dipylidium tapeworms are the most common type and can be spread by fleas.

Your dog actually needs to swallow the flea, but this isn't difficult or unusual.

When your dog is grooming himself, or licking himself or another dog, it's easy for him to swallow these tiny parasites!

Your puppy or dog can also 'catch' a different type of tapeworm (Echinococcus) by eating part of an animal who has tapeworms, from eating the feces of a tapeworm infected animal (including other dogs), or from eating raw meat.

Tapeworms are shed in your puppy or dog's feces... they're usually in segments which look a lot like single grains of white rice. They're usually still 'mobile' at this point. Ugh.

If you check Fido's poop you will most likely be able to tell whether or not he has tapeworms.

It's not unusual for a pup/dog with tapeworm to show no outward symptoms, at least during the early stages of infestation.

Symptoms of tapeworms in dogs include:

  • Unusual licking of the anus, genital area
  • 'Scooting' (dragging the bottom across the ground to relieve the itching)
  • Worm segments around the anus, either moving, or yellowed and dead
  • Diarrhea (uncommon, but possible)
  • Weight loss even with a good appetite (also uncommon, but possible)

As with all worms, the definitive test needs to be done at your veterinarians office. You need to know exactly what type of worms your puppy or dog has so that you get the correct medication to treat it.

Tapeworms can be transmitted to people, children are especially at risk.

The most common type of tapeworms are not usually a big health risk to humans and can be effectively treated with the right medications (your doctor will know exactly what to prescribe).

But there is a variety (E. Multilocaris and E. Granulosus) which can cause serious health problems and even death in humans so again, good hygiene is a MUST. This is very rare, but is possible.

Treating your puppy with an effective topical flea preventative is very simple and effective way to protect both your puppy, and your family, from tapeworms.

Whipworms

Whipworms are more common in dogs than most people think, perhaps in part because they're difficult to diagnose.

They get their name from their distinctive shape. Thicker at the front, and long and very narrow at the rear... like a whip.

These worms don't shed a lot of eggs, neither to they shed segments of themselves (the way tapeworms do. In fact even veterinarians have difficulty diagnosing whipworms from stool samples, it often takes several tries to get a positive result.

Whipworm eggs are very hardy and can remain infective in dirt/earth for years. Public areas and dog parks are prime locations for infestation.

Your pup or dog is at risk of catching whipworms if he eats something that's been in contact with contaminated soil or feces, or the soil/feces themselves.

Symptoms of whipworms in dogs can include:

  • Chronic diarrhea (this is most common). Often contains blood and/or mucus
  • Weight loss
  • Inadequate weight gain, growth and development
  • Anemia (in severe cases)

To treat a case of whipworms effectively, the right medication needs to be given, and then repeated at specific intervals (usually over a period of months) in order to get rid of all the worms who are at different stages of development.

A monthly heartworm preventative which also protects against whipworms can help keep your puppy/dog safe.

Hookworms

Hookworms are another of the most common types of dog worms, and are found all across the US.

There are four species of hookworms in the US, and one of them (Ancylostoma Caninum) can cause severe, potentially fatal blood-loss (anemia), especially in young puppies.

They can thrive outside of animals, in warm soil, or in feces and can be transmitted in several ways:

  • Ingesting the feces of another dog, or animal, who has hookworms
  • Eating an animal who has a hookworm infestation (roadkill, hunting etc.)
  • Ingesting whipworm eggs from licking the ground or grooming other dogs
  • Enter the body directly through a host's skin (animal or human)

Because people can get hookworms too it's best not to walk barefoot in the yard or parks where dogs eliminate.

Hookworms cause a variety of symptoms and can be fatal in young puppies.

Even in older pups or adult dogs they can cause severe anemia due to internal blood loss, severe diarrhea, pneumonia and more.

Sometimes, instead of attaching themselves to the intestinal wall, hookworms can migrate to other organs and parts of the body, causing more diverse (and often dangerous) problems.

Symptoms of hookworms in dogs can include:
  • Loss of appetite
  • Severe, chronic diarrhea (may be bloody) or dark, tarry feces (possible blood loss)
  • Dull dry coat
  • Irritated skin, especially on the feet (due to migration of larvae through the skin)
  • Cough
  • Anemia (very common/dangerous symptom. Pale gums and/or tongue, weakness and lethargy.

Your veterinarian is the best person to diagnose and treat an infestation by taking and testing a stool sample, then prescribing the appropriate medication.

It's not unusual for a puppy or dog to need several rounds of treatment to make sure that all eggs, larvae and adult hookworms are eliminated.

Regular monthly heartworm prevention can prevent or control a hookworm infestation.

Good personal hygiene, regular 'pooper-scooping' and making sure that the human family members don't run around barefoot can all help protect them against these nasty little worms too.

Heartworms

Heartworms are the most dangerous type of dog worms.

As the name suggests this isn't an intestinal worm, but one that attacks your dog's heart. It's always serious, and often fatal.

Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes.

A heartworm infestation isn't easy to detect in the early stages, and by the time symptoms appear it's often well established and putting your dog in real danger.

Symptoms of heartworm in dogs include:

  • Occasional cough - this is often the first sign
  • Chronic cough
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Lethargy
  • Anemia. Pale gums and tongue, weakness, fainting
  • Heart failure

Treatment for heartworms is long, painful, complicated and expensive so this is definitely a case where effective prevention is MUCH BETTER than the cure.

I highly recommend giving your puppy or dog a monthly, preventative medication to keep him safe.

See my Canine Heartworm in Dogs and Heartworm Prevention pages for all the information and advice you need to keep your precious pup safe from this dangerous disease.



Treating Canine Worms

Dog worm medications are the most effective way to eradicate canine worms.

It is always best to have Fido examined by your vet and a stool sample analyzed to make sure you know what type of worms he has.

Each medication may treat one, or several, types of worms but be ineffective on others so it's important to make sure you're using the right dog worm medicine for your dog's specific situation.

Your veterinarian can prescribe the right treatment based on stool analysis, that way you know the little critters will be taken care of!

Puppy Worm Treatment

Since puppies often have worms from birth most responsible dog breeders start deworming their puppies when they're around 3 weeks old.

It's important to start treatment for worms in puppies early on and be consistent about repeating it on schedule.

Once you bring your puppy home that responsibility will become yours.

Intestinal worms in puppies

A few worms aren't going to be a huge problem IN THE SHORT TERM, but this changes quickly and the longer a pup has worms the sicker he will become and the more difficult it will be to get rid of them.

Try to get your new puppy's shot and deworming record from his breeder/owner so that you know what he has already been given, it's a good starting point.

Veterinarians routinely deworm puppies at the same time as they give them their puppy shots (at around 8, 10 and 12 weeks)

After that they can be dewormed annually or twice annually until adult.

If your pup shows any signs of a worm problem after his final puppy treatment, or you notice worms in his poop, have your vet check him out quickly.

If you have a litter of puppies, or just one pup/dog who isn't showing signs of a worm problem and you want to treat them routinely yourself there are a couple of options you can try.

One of the dog dewormer medications commonly recommended/administered by veterinarians is Panacur C.

Panacur kills roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms and whipworms. 

It is a broad-spectrum deworming product containint Febendazole and is approved for use in puppies over 6 weeks of age.

Getting the dosage right is extremely important.

Dose for Panacur-C is 1 gram per 10lbs of body weight and full dosage instructions are with the product

The correct dosage needs to be given daily for three consecutive days.

Panacur is available in 1 gram2 gram, and 4 gram packets.

Side effects of giving Panacur to puppies or dogs are generally mild and include loose stools, diarrhea or vomiting can happen.

A dog worm medicine which is approved for very young puppies (as well as pups of any age and adult dogs) is:

Nemex-2 - a non-prescription liquid dog dewormer suitable for puppies as young as two weeks of age.

Nemex-2 kills roundworms and hookworms.

The active ingredient in Nemex-2 is Pyrantel Pamoate

Again, getting the dose right is crucial for safety and effectiveness. 

Dosage for Nemex-2 is 1ml per lb of body weight, or 5ml (which equals one tsp) per 10lbs of body weight.

Keeping fleas at bay is a simple way to prevent tapeworm problems and using a reliable flea/tick medication is important.

There are many different dog flea products on the market today.

These include topical products and oral products.

This article has detailed information on all the best and most effective treatments for dog fleas.... Flea Medicine for Dogs.

Help - there are worms in my puppy's poop!

AFTER your puppy has been dewormed you're very likely to see worms being expelled from his body - in his poop.

This is perfectly normal, and is proof that the medication is working, so don't panic.


Heartworm in Puppies

A heartworm problem doesn't begin to show symptoms until the infestation is severe.

Many times a dog is too sick to recover and heartworm is often fatal.

It takes about six months to get to that point.

Obviously very young puppies will not have had a chance to develop a heartworm problem like this but it's vital to prevent the worms from ever setting up shop in your pup so that it never happens.

Puppies can start on Heartgard as soon as they are 6 weeks old.

Many vet clinics offer a free Heartgard chewable at your puppy's initial visit. It's worth asking about.


Adult Dog Worm Treatment

Adult dogs can catch worms in a whole slew of different ways, and it's perfectly possible for Fido to be harboring these little critters without you even noticing it.

You can see information above for a closer look at the symptoms for each type of canine worm.

Most common signs that your dog has canine worms may include:

  • Diarrhea or loose stools
  • Blood or mucus in stools
  • Vomiting (in a severe infestation worms can be vomited up)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Visible worms in your dog's stools
  • Worm eggs around your dog's rectal area

Some worms are actually visible if you look at your dog's stools (yukky but sometimes necessary).

Roundworms are long, thin and round (no surprise there).

They may look like pieces of (possibly moving) spaghetti.

Roundworms are generally 3 - 5 inches long, but can get longer. Sometimes up to 8 inches.

Tapeworms are flat and their bodies are made up of segments. 

An intact tapeworm could be as long as 19 inches, but it's unusual to see more than a few segments in your pup or dog's stools.

These segments look a lot like little flattened grains of rice.

Tapeworm eggs can often be seen around your dog's rectum. They look like very tiny seeds, and may be moving.

Hookworms and whipworms are much smaller than roundworms or tapeworms, usually between 1/4 - 3/4 of an inch long and very thin.

It's unlikely that you'll notice them if you're not specifically looking for them, and even if you are, they can be difficult to see with the naked eye.

Your vet will take a stool sample to test for the presence of worms and to be sure of what kind they are.

If  you have a strong stomach you can collect one of the worms from your dogs poop and put it in a zip-loc baggie or glass jar to help with identification.

Dogs with canine worms are treated using the same medications that are used for puppies.

Which one your vet prescribes/recommends will depend on what type of worms Fido has.

Heartworm in Adult Dogs

If you live in a location where there are mosquitoes, the only way to keep your dog safe from heartworms is to give him a monthly heartworm preventative such as Heartgard.

Do NOT wait for symptoms of a heartworm infestation to show up because by that point Fido will be very sick and it may even be too late to save him.

Visit this page to learn all about canine heartworm including symptoms and treatment options... Heartworm in Dogs


Preventing Worm Infestations in Dogs

As I mentioned earlier, puppies are often born with roundworms or have them passed to them in their mother's milk.

That is why it's vital to deworm puppies properly.

Unfortunately once that initial problem is taken care of it doesn't mean your pup/dog is free and clear.

Veterinarian and terrier dog

It is very easy for a dog to pick up worms, from the soil, from the feces of other dogs, through flea or mosquito bites... he is always going to be at risk.

However there are a few things that you can do to reduce your dog's chances of catching worms:

  • Scoop the poop in your yard quickly
  • Discourage poop-eating (coprophagia)
  • Give monthly heartworm preventative
  • Give monthly flea/tick preventative
  • Keep his digestive system healthy with probiotics
  • Feed a nutritious premium dog food
  • Keep regular veterinary well-check appointments


Canine Worms and Humans

Some canine worms can also transfer themselves to the human family members.

Roundworm and tapeworm eggs can be ingested (ugh) usually by children who have a tendency to pet the dog and forget to wash their hands afterwards.

Small boy with Beagle puppies

Encouraging exemplary hygiene is a great way to prevent this from happening.

Hookworms can burrow through human skin and if your dog has hookworms and uses your yard as his toilet, there will be hookworms in your soil.

It's always a good idea to make sure there is no barefoot walking in the yard if you have dogs.

When worms  normally found in one species infect another, often the symptoms are quite different.

The most common signs of a worm problem (predominately dog worms) in people include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Stomach ache
  • Skin rash or itchy  skin
  • Swelling around the eye, eye inflammation or vision changes

Any, or all, of these need to be taken seriously and if you're at all worried then make sure you have get a doctor's appointment quickly.

Of course, these symptoms can also be caused by a lot of other illnesses and diseases, and kids are well-known for the number of 'bugs' they can bring home. 

But if you have a puppy, dog, cat or kitten that your child plays with and who hasn't been properly (or regularly) treated for worms, and your child shows any of the above symptoms and tests negative for other illnesses, a parasite problem isn't out of the question.

Luckily, your doctor can diagnose a worm problem and treat it with the correct medication fairly easily. BUT the sooner the better to avoid potentially dangerous consequences.

Pinworms and Children

Kids can get Pinworms (aka Threadworms) and Fido is NOT to blame for this.

Humans are this worms natural host and ogs don't get them.

Pinworms are tiny (only a couple of millimeters long, and very narrow), and their eggs are even smaller and symptoms include soreness and itching around the anus. 

A child scratching at an itchy bottom and then touching their fingers to their face/mouth, can start the whole cycle all over again.

These tiny eggs also cling to underwear, clothing, bedding and so on.

Luckily, treatment is simple with the right medication from your doctor.


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