Parasites can affect pets tremendously, just as they can affect the health of people. More than just worms or mites, parasites can come in many forms. Because parasite infestations can be critical, it’s important for pet owners to familiarize themselves with the most common parasites that could infect their pets, as well as the symptoms that they cause. Knowing which signs of illness to look for can help you make sure that your pet receives prompt veterinary attention.
Why is it important to know about the possible parasites that can affect your dog? It is important, because you can catch them too. Many of the parasites that infest pets are zoonotic, and as you interact with your dog, you are also susceptible, as are any children in your home.
The Most Common Worms
The most common internal parasite, roundworms are especially prevalent in puppies. Puppies are infested in utero, through transplacental transfer from a roundworm infested mother. A slender, spaghetti-noodle shaped worm can be found in the stools of a dog that is heavily infested, or a fecal exam by a veterinarian will reveal roundworm eggs.
Heartworms, left untreated, will be fatal. These deadly worms are spread by mosquitoes, and take up residence inside the muscles of the heart. Diagnosis is made through regular blood tests, and heartworm preventative is prescribed for dogs with negative results (no worms present). Heartworm treatment for positive test results can be traumatic to the host animal, and is a fairly involved veterinary process. Prevention is very much recommended.
Whipworms are long, whip-shaped worms that take up residence in the dog’s colon. Eggs are shed and diagnosis can be made three months later through a veterinarian fecal exam. Weight loss, anemia, and fresh blood in the stool are signs of a heavy infestation.
Hookworms are minuscule (12 to 15 mm) intestinal worms that hook onto the intestinal wall and consume copious amounts of blood. A hookworm infestation can kill a puppy before the eggs are ever discovered in a fecal exam. It is extremely important to test all dogs on a regular basis, as hookworms are not only very contagious to other pets, but also to humans.
The common dog tapeworm is is transmitted through fleas. The usual sign of infestation is discovering the egg sacks around the anus. Egg sacks look grains of rice, that may or may not be moving. Treatment is accomplished by a prescription from your veterinarian. Due to the nature of tapeworms, regular de-worming medication will not help.
Regular veterinary check-ups and fecal exams are an important part of responsible dog ownership, and the only way to ensure your best friend stays parasite free (and you too!).