What’s one unsavory responsibility of dog ownership? Looking at your pet’s poop. Dog parents should pay attention to their dog’s poop for one of the same reasons vets often ask for a stool sample: your pooch’s stool can actually be indicative of their health, especially when it comes to worms.
Sometimes worms in dog poop are the only visible symptom of internal parasites in your dog. Other times, they go undetected, until your vet runs diagnostic tests. Screening tests like this are why routine appointments are important to your pet’s health. The earlier you can catch worms, the easier they are to treat with dewormer for dogs.
Read on to learn how dogs get worms, symptoms to watch for, and how to deworm a dog.
There are a few ways dogs get infected with worms. While different worms are transmitted through different methods, here are the most common ways your dog could get an internal parasite:1
- Eating infected poop
- Eating infected raw meat or wild game
- Coming into contact with infected poop or soil
- Coming into contact with infected dogs
- Nursing from their infected mother
- An infected mother passing it to their pup through their placenta
- Eating infected fleas
- Mosquito bites
Some worms can be transmitted to humans, so by protecting your dog, you’re also protecting yourself and your family members.1
There are five primary types of worms your dog is susceptible to: tapeworm, heartworm, roundworm, whipworm, and hookworm. Despite misconceptions about ringworm, it’s not actually a worm. Ringworm is a fungal infection and is not transmitted in the same ways actual worms are.
Tapeworms are the most common type of worm found in dogs. They’re often transmitted through fleas, and they latch onto your dog’s intestines. They feed off the nutrients in your dog and can grow up to 19 inches long. While tapeworms usually won’t have any harmful effects on adult dogs, they can severely affect puppies. Puppies have smaller intestines that are easily blocked and need more nutrients to grow.
Heartworm disease can be transmitted via infected mosquitoes. This parasite infects your dog’s blood vessels and lungs. They can grow up to a foot long and can cause blockages in the heart and lungs. Heartworms are entirely preventable, but can be expensive to treat once contracted.
Roundworms can be transmitted a few different ways. They can be passed through infected feces, the placenta of an infected mother, or infected milk to a nursing puppy. Like tapeworms, they suck necessary nutrients from young puppies intestines, which can hinder their growth.2
Whipworms are often transmitted when dogs eat infected feces. Their eggs can live in harsh environments and infect dogs for up to 5 years. These quarter inch worms live in the large intestine and can cause bleeding, swelling, and anemia. This parasite infection may be difficult to diagnose because of the whipworm’s inconsistent egg laying schedule. Oftentimes, infected dogs don’t show eggs in their feces for a long time after infection.3
Hookworms can be transmitted through infected feces, environments that have been infected, and the placenta or milk of an infected mother. These tiny worms latch onto dogs’ intestinal walls and suck their blood. This may cause anemia, which can be life threatening in puppies.4
Worms can affect your dog’s health in many ways. They may inhibit growth in young puppies, block up the intestines, and in severe cases, cause organ failure. Here are a few symptoms pet parents should watch out for:1,4
- Bloody stool
- Weight loss
- Appetite loss
- Abdominal pain or bloating
- Poor coat health
- Pale gums
Heartworm can often be diagnosed with a blood test, whereas other parasites need different tests. If you suspect your dog has worms, the first step is contacting your veterinarian. They can determine what tests are needed.
To properly diagnose your dog with worms, your vet may ask for a stool sample and do a few tests on it. They may look at the sample under a microscope for parasite eggs or do a fecal float test. Though they may need to do an X-ray, echocardiogram, radiograph, or ultrasound to determine the severity of the infection. Diagnostic testing alone can cost over $1,000.5
Deworming treatment depends on the type of worm your pet has. Your vet should evaluate your dog and tell you how often to deworm your dog, and a smiliar approach should be taken for deworming cats. The three most common options are oral medication, a shot, or a topical dog dewormer.
Veterinarians recommend beginning a deworming schedule when puppies are 2 – 3 weeks of age. Worms are common in puppies, and deworming dogs is the best way to protect their vulnerable growing bodies. Generally, multiple treatments are needed. The first treatment will kill any existing worms, but not the eggs. The next treatment will take care of any worms that hatch afterward. If your pup is anemic from hookworms, your vet may also need to do a blood transfusion.5
Heartworm is a unique case that requires more intensive testing, treatment, and recovery compared to other parasites. If your pet has heartworm, they may need X-rays, blood work, and other tests to determine the severity of the infection.5
Vets generally put dogs on antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications, as well as a monthly heartworm prevention program. After a month of that, your vet will start the deworming medication, which is typically a series of three shots over 2 months.5
During this time and in the months following, it’s crucial that your dog stays fairly still. The heartworm treatment kills the worms, but they break apart and chunks flow through your dog’s arteries. If your dog’s heart is pumping fast, like for exercise, there is a higher risk that these chunks could block blood flow to their heart and lungs. Work with your vet to create a plan to keep your dog calm during the recovery period.
While worms can’t be 100% prevented, there are a few measures you can take to protect your pup. Prioritize good hygiene both when cleaning up their poop and when around other dogs. Keep them away from sniffing or eating other dogs’ poop in public areas like the dog park.
Heartworm prevention and intestinal parasite prevention medications can help keep your dog from being infected. Flea and tick medication can also help protect your dog from some of the pests that transmit worms. Work with your veterinarian to create and stick to a schedule for these medications.
Annual checkups are also important and can help catch any parasites early. You could ask your vet to check your dog’s stool for microscopic parasite eggs or any other signs of internal parasites.
Worm prevention and treatment adds up fast. Things like dog dewormer, blood work, X-rays, blood transfusions, and medication are expensive, but they’re an important step in keeping your dog safe and healthy.
MetLife Pet Insurance offers two add-ons to their coverage that can help you keep your dog safe from worms.6 Our Wellness Plan often covers regular checkups, so you can get your pet tested for parasites regularly. Plus, our standard policies cover diagnostic testing such as X-rays and blood work.7 Get a free quote today.