What to do if your dog has intestinal worms

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What to do if your dog has intestinal worms   - a dog lying in the grass licking a stick

Intestinal worms are, unfortunately, very common in pet dogs. It is important for dog owners to learn how their pets can contract worms and what to do when infected. Read on if you have ever wondered:

  • How did my dog get worms?
  • How do I know if my dog has worms?
  • How are intestinal worms treated?
  • Why are fecal tests important for dogs?
  • My dog has worms. Now what?

Healthy dogs often do not show symptoms when infected. However, worms can be spread to humans and other animals and must be treated promptly. The treatment for worms varies depending on what type of infection is present, so fecal tests are required to diagnose and guide treatment for worms in dogs.

How do dogs get intestinal worms?

Dogs catch intestinal worms by ingesting eggs. This can occur in several ways:

  • Ingesting infected feces directly, on a surface, or in contaminated soil
  • Licking an infected animal’s contaminated fur, particularly around the rear end
  • Ingesting infected prey or raw meat
  • Ingesting infected fleas

Parasites can also transmit from a mother dog to her pups in the womb and through mother’s milk. Intestinal parasites are common among pet dogs, and it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly where your dog caught them.

What do intestinal worms look like?

Common dog worms include tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. Tapeworms can be seen in the feces as they shed their segments. These tapeworm segments can look like grains of rice in your dog’s feces, on their bedding, or around their rectum. The eggs of roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms are microscopic and cannot be seen without help from a microscope.

“Adult worms can be seen with the naked eye but do not usually pass in the stool,” explains Vetster veterinarian Jo Myers. “They remain inside the gastrointestinal tract and shed their eggs instead. That means there’s no way to know if your dog has worms or not just by looking at their stool.” Dogs can vomit up adult worms as well.

When adult worms pass in the stool or are vomited up, roundworms appear long, skinny, and tubular, similar to spaghetti. Adult tapeworms appear more flat and segmented. Adult hookworms are only about 1/4" to 3/4" (1-1.9 cm) long and slender enough that it is very difficult to see them with the naked eye. Whipworms are also skinnier than spaghetti and are about the same length as a matchstick. They are readily identifiable because they have a thicker head and long skinny tail, making them shaped like a whip.

What are the symptoms of worms in dogs?

Healthy adult dogs usually show few to no signs of worms. For those who do show symptoms, clinical signs can include:

Young puppies and dogs experiencing other medical conditions or diseases are the most likely to experience clinical signs of intestinal worms. Severe infestations of worms in dogs can also cause intestinal blockage, anemia from blood loss, and malnutrition.

How does a veterinarian diagnose and treat intestinal parasites?

Intestinal worms and other gastrointestinal parasites are diagnosed using fecal tests. This can include egg floatation tests and fecal smear tests. In some cases bloodwork may also be needed or recommended. Identifying the correct type of worm is necessary to ensure the correct treatment protocol is followed. The type of dewormer required varies depending on the species of worm. A follow-up fecal test may be recommended to check the effectiveness of the treatment. False negatives are common, and dogs are frequently exposed to worms, so routine use of broad-spectrum dewormers is common. A veterinarian can help you read the results of a fecal diagnostic test.

Can I treat my dog’s worms naturally?

Intestinal parasites require specific dewormer medications to kill them safely. Natural and homeopathic remedies are not effective and can cause more harm. Deworming medications are safe when used as instructed under a veterinarian’s guidance. Always ask a vet before administering a new medication or new dosage to your dog.

Does my dog need a fecal test?

The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends that puppies receive four fecal tests yearly and adult dogs receive two depending on their overall health and lifestyle. These tests help catch parasites for proper treatment and to prevent the spread of parasites to other animals or people. Fecal tests are also essential to know what kind(s) of worms are present which may affect which type of dewormer is needed.

Fecal tests are commonly required for dogs doing therapy work in hospitals and nursing homes to prevent exposing at-risk humans to worms. In addition, if you plan on boarding your dog or attending a dog daycare, many locations require regular fecal testing to prevent the spread of intestinal parasites to other dogs.

Can I prevent worm infestations in my dog?

Not all parasitic worms can be prevented. However, there are precautions pet parents can take to lower the risk of their dog contracting worms. Year-round flea and heartworm medications help prevent many internal parasites and fleas that can spread tapeworms. Most common heartworm preventives provide broad-spectrum parasite control that helps prevent new infestations with intestinal parasites, and flea control helps reduce exposure to tapeworms. Avoid feeding raw diets or allowing a dog to eat wild animals such as rabbits and squirrels. Routine fecal tests do not prevent worm infections but help catch them and determine the right treatment.

What should I do if my dog has worms?

If you suspect your dog has worms, or if you see tapeworms in their stool, talk to a veterinarian. An online veterinarian can help you select the right product and safe dosage of an over-the-counter oral dewormer for your dog. They may also recommend a fecal test, which you can do yourself at home. Whether you’re mailing it in or taking it to a local vet, collect a fresh fecal sample in a labeled Ziplock bag or fecal tube. Do not use paper towels or other absorbent material to pick up the stool, which can interfere with the test results. A follow-up test may be recommended after treatment. If you have questions about internal parasites, need parasite prevention, or suspect your dog may have worms, you can make a virtual vet appointment with Vetster today.

FAQ - What to do if your dog has worms

Can humans catch worms from dogs?

Roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms are spread when the microscopic eggs are ingested by a new host, which may be another pet or a human. People can catch roundworms and hookworms directly from their infected animals as they shed eggs in their environment. Tapeworms must go through an intermediate host and are not transmitted directly from dogs to humans.

How do I get rid of worms in my dog?

A dewormer recommended by a veterinarian and used correctly is the best, safest and most effective way to eliminate canine worms. These can be prescription or over-the-counter products. If you suspect your dog has worms, contact a veterinarian for testing and treatment.

Do I need to treat my house if my dog has worms?

Disinfecting bedding and food bowls can help prevent further spread of worms while a dog is being treated. A dog may have fleas if diagnosed with a tapeworm infection. If your dog has fleas, your house will also be infested with fleas and may need flea treatment. Any other dogs in the household need to be treated for worms that are directly transmitted (roundworms, hookworms, whipworms) and fleas (tapeworms) if one pet is diagnosed, even if there are no visible worms in the stool or symptoms of fleas.

What is the difference between intestinal worms and heartworms?

Intestinal worms live in the gastrointestinal tract and are caught when worm eggs are ingested. Heartworms live in the heart, lungs, and bloodstream and are spread by mosquitoes. The parasites are contracted and treated in different ways and affect different parts of the body.