Dogs and worms unfortunately go together like cake and ice cream. The reasons for this are twofold: first, dogs are omnivores. They will eat almost anything, including feces. Second, dogs are scavengers. If you are doubtful of this, just watch what happens the next time you let your dog out into the yard. Chances are, the first or second thing it will do is start sniffing around to see if it can find something to eat. And whatever it eats could easily be worm infested.

Dog Intestinal Worms

There are five intestinal worms – or parasites - that can affect your dog. They are roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, whipworms and heartworms.

Not an intestinal parasite

One other worm that can infect your dog is not an intestinal parasite. It is the ringworm that, despite its name, is really a fungus.

Roundworms

These are the most common type of worms that are likely to infect your dog. They are generally 2-4 inches long, tan or white and "spaghetti-like" creatures with tapered ends.

If your dog becomes infected with roundworms, it may experience vomiting, diarrhea, and show a generally unhealthy appearance. If it becomes heavily infested, it may pass whole worms in its stool. These worms can cause intestinal blockages.

A large percentage of puppies are actually born with microscopically small roundworm larvae in their tissues. These worms have migrated to the mother's uterus, then right into the developing pup. Roundworms can also be transferred to a nursing pup through its mother's milk.

Tapeworms

Tapeworm segments are usually 1/4-1/2 inches long. When tapeworm segments dry out they tend to look like a grain of uncooked rice or a sesame seed.

Tapeworms live in a dog's small intestine and steal the nutrients from the food that your dog consumes.

Dog tapeworm symptoms include abdominal discomfort, nervousness, itching around the anus, vomiting, and weight loss

The only way that dogs can get tapeworms is by eating an infected flea.

When your dog ingests the flea, it is digested, releasing a tiny tapeworm. The tapeworm fastens itself on the wall of your dog’s intestine. Initially, it the worm is just a head, a throat and a segment. The worm then starts growing new segments, each of which has its own digestive and reproductive systems. The worm feeds on the nutrients in your dog’s food as it passes by in the intestine. Eventually, the worm sheds off its older segments. When these dry out, they look like tiny grains of rice or sesame seeds.

Each of the worms segments contains many thousands of eggs.

Tapeworms can grow up to 15 feet long and the largest tapeworm ever found was almost 60 feet long

Hookworms

Dog Hookworms are a parasitic nematode worm that lives in the dog’s small intestine. They are like earthworms in that they are bilateral -- meaning that you can cut one in two and the worm will be the same on each side.

Typical hookworm symptoms include itchy feet, a rash on the dog’s feet, wheezing and coughing, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and blood in stool or black stool.

Both puppies and adult dogs can suffer anemia and even death -- when infected with hookworms. These worms enter your dog through its skin and then move through the skin to the lungs where they are typically coughed up and then swallowed. Hookworms are different than the other intestinal parasites in that they feed on the dog’s blood. Puppies are especially susceptible to hookworms and can die of a hookworm infection.

Hookworms are difficult to diagnose because they usually are not passed in the stool. In most cases, the only way they can be diagnosed is with a fecal test performed by your veterinarian.

How severely hookworms may affect your dog depends on its overall health and age.

Whipworms

Like hookworms, whipworms bury their heads into the dog and suck its blood. They live in the cecum, the first section of the dog’s large intestine. These worms get their name from their whip-like shape.

A dog’s reactions to whipworms are usually relatively mild, although exceptions do occur. Heavy infections can result in bouts of diarrhea and feces may be streaked with fresh blood. Young dogs or dogs with a chronic infection can suffer severe weight loss, dehydration due to diarrhea, and anemia.

Dogs must ingest whipworm eggs to become infected.

A whipworm infestation can lead to a severe infection that, in turn, causes diarrhea, weight loss and blood loss. These worms are hardy and can survive outdoors in the soil for years.

If your dog shows chronic weight loss and its stool seems to be covered with a mucus-like substance, it may have whipworms and will need whipworm medication

It is usually difficult to prove that the dog has whipworms because they produce comparatively few eggs. So, even if you look at several of the dog's stool samples, you may not see the whipworms.

Is there is a strong probability that your dog might become re-infected? In this case, repeated wormings may be necessary.

Hookworms seldom cause the dog's death, but they can be a real nuisance for the dog.

Heartworms

Heartworms are very dangerous because they can actually kill your dog. In addition, it can be as long as nine months from the time your dog becomes infected till the heartworms become adults and a threat to your dog’s life. The scary part is that during this time you will not know the dog has become infected. This is why heartworms are often called “the invisible killer.”

Unfortunately, your dog will show symptoms of heartworm disease after the heartworms have become mature and are in the dog’s heart and lungs. The symptoms of heartworm disease at this stage include a dull coat, weight loss, difficulty breathing, fainting spells and an enlarged abdomen. Ultimately, the dog will suffer congestive heart failure.

The only way your dog can contact heartworms is if it is bitten by a mosquito that has fed on another dog infected with heartworms. When the mosquito ingests its blood meal from the infected dog, it also ingests tiny, microscopic creatures called microfilariae. When the mosquito next feeds on your dog, these microfilariae are deposited on its skin. Sixty to 90 days, later they break through and enter one of the dog’s arteries, they are then transported to the dog’s heart. These tiny these microfilariae will then develop into adult heartworms which, if left untreated, can clog your dog’s heart and lungs and cause its death.

The only way that heartworms can be diagnosed is through a blood test administered by your veterinarian. If you live in a warm, wet area such as the south, or any area where mosquitoes are prevalent, you should have your veterinarian give your dog this blood test as part of its regular, yearly checkup. This way, if it has been infected with heartworms your vet can begin treatment before it’s too late.

Dogs infected with adult heartworms can be still be saved through a series of injections that your vet will give at the rate of two per day for two days.

Ringworms

Ringworms are not an intestinal parasite, but a fungal infection that can have an effect on your dog’s appearance as well as its health.

One obvious sign of ringworm is a small, hairless area on your dog. This area will also have pustules and scaly skin. The dog will scratch because of the itching that the ringworm causes. If the area is not treated, it will grow larger over time. The dog’s legs, head and tail are the most common areas for ringworm lesions.

If your dog contacts ringworm it will usually pick it up from its surroundings – kennels, animal burrows, or from other already infected animals.

If you believe your dog may have ringworm, take it to your veterinarian. He can diagnose the disease and then advise you as to which anti-fungal pills or topical medications would be best to rid your dog of this nuisance.

Preventing Worm Infestations

The best way to prevent your dog from contacting any kind of worm is to take it in for an annual exam. While you’re there, you can ask your vet to recommend a broad-spectrum preventive products. The newest of these products will protect your dog against heartworms, roundworms, whipworms, and even fleas.

Be sure to keep your dog flea free as it only through fleas that your dog can contact tapeworms.

Try not to expose your dog to stray animals or wildlife, as they often carry dog fleas and other parasites. Also, it’s a good idea to keep your dog away from dog parks that are not well maintained, as these can be a source of parasites

Keep your dog from eating animal carcasses, such as those of birds, rodents and rabbits. These carcasses can carry immature worms that then mature into adult worms after your dog ingests them.

Don’t let your dog eat feces that are either his own or from other dogs or animals.

Inspect your dog’s anus and feces regularly and look for signs of tapeworms. As indicated above, tapeworm segments are small, wide and flat and resemble grains of rice.

Finally, have your veterinarian check the dog’s stool specimen when it has its annual checkup.

As you can see, there are a number of parasites that can infect your dog. This makes it doubly important that you take your dog in for a regular check up as this is the only way to make sure it remains parasite free.

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