Dogs and Worms: What Pet Owners Need to Know

There are the snuggles, the cuddles, the looks of love and loyalty. Then there’s the not-so-pleasant side of dog-ownership. The messes, the accidents, the Eau de skunk et garbage… and the worms. Canine worms can create a host of health problems for your pooch. And, well, they’ve definitely got the yuck factor. How do you know if your dog has worms – and what do you do about it?

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Worms

Tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and heartworms (oh my!) can be introduced to your dog through different means (don’t you worry, we’ll get to that in a minute) and produce different symptoms. Regardless of the specific type of worm, though, they interfere with the digestive system and internal organs as they mature. You may notice signs such as:

  • Lethargy.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Bloating in the belly (caused by malnutrition).
  • Weight loss.
  • Vomiting.
  • Sporadic diarrhea.
  • Scruffy coat.
  • A cough.

If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your vet immediately. If left unchecked, worms can cause dehydration, severe malnutrition, anemia, liver damage, intestinal blockage, and, in the case of heartworms, heart failure, and even death. But fortunately for dogs and owners, worms are treatable – and even better, preventable.  

As promised, here’s a more in-depth look at the different types of worms that can wreak havoc on your pet’s system. It is important to identify the worm correctly so the proper medicine can be administered.

Tapeworms. Tapeworms are a parasite on top of a parasite. They live on fleas, which can live on your dog. When your pup licks himself, he may swallow the fleas and their unwanted guests. Once inside, the tapeworms absorb nutrients from your dog’s intestines.

Tapeworms are visible to the naked eye, so you can spot them in your dog’s feces or, sometimes, around his anus. You may also find them on your pup’s bedding or on your furniture. Ah, the joys of pet ownership. The worms are made up of rice-sized segments, so be on the lookout if your dog has an itchy backside or engages in behaviour that suggests abdominal pain or excessive restlessness.

Roundworms. Most puppies are born with roundworm because their moms have the dormant larvae in their stomach. It can also be spread through feces or when pups are nursing. Again, the worm leaches nutrition from your dog, and it can cause diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, and other symptoms.

Roundworms resemble spaghetti (hope you weren’t planning on pasta for dinner) and you can see them in stool or vomit.

Caution: roundworms can be transmitted to humans through feces. Always, always wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning up after your dog (whether or not you see evidence of worms) and don’t allow your children to play near areas in which your dog has evacuated his bowels.

Hookworms. Hookworms infiltrate adult dogs through their skin or when they clean themselves. Puppies may get them from contact with their mothers. The worms “hook” themselves onto your dog’s intestines and feed on blood. This can cause malnutrition, weakness, dry skin, anemia, and bloody stools.

You cannot see hookworms with the naked eye, so it is doubly important that you pay attention to symptoms. If you see these signs, contact your vet immediately. He or she can examine stool microscopically to identify the worm.

Whipworms.  Your dog can get whipworms when he ingests eggs that live in the soil. For instance, he may lick his dirt-covered paws or chew on a dirt-covered toy. These worms affect the area between the large and small intestines and can cause diarrhea, and in severe cases, dehydration, anemia, and weight loss.

Another no-see-um, you’ll have to visit the vet for an identification and proper treatment.

Heartworms. Heartworms are spread through mosquito bites. Instead of the digestive tract, they affect the heart and respiratory system and can cause shortness of breath, persistent coughing, fainting, weakness, high blood pressure, and even heart failure. Heartworms are serious, so be sure to ask your vet about effective monthly preventatives.

In most cases, simple over-the-counter or prescription de-worming medicines are effective, and your pet suffers nothing worse than a trip to the vet.

Sure, worms are yucky – but those looks of love and loyalty sure make up for them. Keep your dog in great health; if you notice worms or symptoms, call your vet as soon as you can.