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Intestinal Worms & Parasites in Dogs - Be Aware of the Signs and Dangers!

No one said intestinal parasites are fun. But, as a dog owner, it’s important to know about the different types of worms and the effects they have on a dog’s health. And since people can become infected with roundworms and hookworms, it’s that much more important to keep your dog parasite-free. The following information offers some basic facts about the more common parasites.

ROUNDWORMS (Toxocara canis, Toxascaris leonina) are the most common type of worm to infect the animal kingdom. These worms are usually 2 – 4 inches long, tan or white “spaghetti-like” creatures with tapered ends. If a roundworm burden is heavy, a dog may vomit these worms or pass them (whole) in the stool. Roundworms can cause vomiting and diarrhea and can have an effect on a dog’s overall general health and appearance. Puppies infected with roundworms will have a “potbellied” (bloated) look to them. While roundworms are most common in puppies and kittens, they are found in pets of all ages. Roundworms can become so numerous that they can cause an intestinal blockage and stool cannot pass. As mentioned above, roundworms are zoonotic (can be transferred to humans) and can cause an infection known as “Visceral Larva Migrans”, which may result in possible inflammation of muscle tissue and blindness. Anthelmintics (dewormers) that are frequently used to treat roundworms are pyrantel pamoate, fenbendazole and piperazine.

HOOKWORMS (Ancylostoma caninium) are blood-sucking intestinal parasites and have the ability to cause anemia (and sometimes death) in puppies and adult dogs. Hookworms cannot be seen by the naked eye, and the severity of adverse effects will depend on the amount of worms in the intestine, the animal’s overall health and age. In humans, hookworms can cause “Cutaneous Larva Migrans”, commonly called “creeping eruption”. The hookworm larvae will burrow into the skin of a human’s foot or leg causing a linear, red lesion, which is intensely itchy. This parasite has also been known to cause chronic intestinal bleeding, abdominal pain and diarrhea in small children. Deworming medications usually include pyrantel pamoate and fenbendazole.

Does Your Dog Have Hookworms? What Are the Symptoms? Weakness is one of the signs that a dog is infected by hookworm. Hookworms are parasites that get their name from the hook-like mouthparts they use to attach to the intestinal wall. They are only about 1/8" (3 mm) long and so small that it is very difficult to see them with the naked eye. Despite their small size, they ingest large amounts of blood from the tiny vessels in the intestinal wall. A large number of hookworms can cause significant blood loss (anemia). This problem is most common in puppies, but can occur in adult dogs.

Dogs may become infected with hookworms by four routes

1) Orally

2) Through the skin

3) Through the mother's placenta before birth

4) Through the mother's milk.

 The most significant problems appear related to intestinal distress and anemia. Blood loss results from the parasites ingesting blood from intestinal capillaries. Pale gums, diarrhea, or weakness are common signs of anemia. Some dogs experience significant weight loss, bloody diarrhea, or failure to grow properly with hookworm infection. Skin irritation and itching, especially of the paws, can be signs of a heavily infested environment. The larvae burrow into the skin and cause itching and discomfort. You will note your dog may constantly lick and chew his paws. Hookworms are diagnosed with a microscopic examination of a stool sample. Since there are many eggs produced daily, they are easily detected. One adult female hookworm may produce as many as 20,000 eggs a day! There are several effective drugs to eliminate hookworms. They are given by injection or orally and have few, if any, side-effects. However, these drugs only kill the adult hookworms. Therefore, it is necessary to treat again in about 2-4 weeks to kill any newly formed adult worms that were larvae at the time of the first treatment. Adult hookworms do not infect humans; however, the larvae can burrow into human skin. This causes itching, commonly called "ground itch", but the worms do not mature into adults. Direct contact of human skin to moist, hookworm infested soil is required. Fortunately, this does not occur often if normal hygiene practices are observed. In rare instances, the canine hookworm will penetrate into deeper tissues and partially mature in the human intestine.

TAPEWORMS (Dipylidium caninum) are the other parasites that can be seen by the dog owner. Actually, what the dog owner with observe is tapeworm segments that have broken off from the adult parasite attached to the lining of the dog’s intestinal tract. These tapeworm pieces are 1/4 - 1/2 inch in length, are usually white and are usually seen (while still alive) contracting and expanding around the dog’s rectum or on a dog’s stool immediately after elimination. Once these segments die, they will appear like a grain of uncooked wild rice or a sesame seed and are often found in the dog’s bedding. The most common route of infection occurs when the dog swallows a flea that is carrying the parasite’s eggs. Tapeworms cannot be directly transmitted from dogs to humans but small children could accidentally ingest flea larvae or pupae on the floor containing an immature tapeworm and get a tapeworm infection. Deworming can be done by either oral medication or by injection and the most common antiparasitic agent used is praziquantel another is epsiprantel. Dogs tend to drag their rear end along the ground as if trying to find relief from irritation. Not to be confused with anal gland problem.

WHIPWORM (Trichuris vulpis) is one of the less notable parasites and it cannot be seen by the dog owner. Unfortunately, this particular parasite is the most difficult to eradicate and control. The symptoms may include severe diarrhea, flatulence and loss of weight. The anthelmintic (expelling or destroying parasitic worms especially of the intestine) for whipworm most commonly prescribed is fenbendazole (Panacur).

COCCIDIA (Isopora canis) is not a worm, but a single cell microscopic organism that will cause “havoc” in a dog’s intestinal tract when present in great numbers. Coccidia come from fecal-contaminated ground. They are swallowed when a pet grooms or licks the dirt off itself. In some cases, sporulated oocysts are swallowed by mice and the host is infected when it eats the mouse. Coccidia infection is especially common in young animals housed in groups (as in shelters, rescue areas, kennels, etc.) This is a common parasite and is not necessarily a sign of poor husbandry. It is important to have a fecal sample done yearly to check for parasites. Many people opt to skip these tests to save money thinking they are not that important. However, if done yearly and the right meds are prescribed, you will keep your pet healthy. This protozoa will cause watery diarrhea in young and susceptible animals that have immature or compromised immune systems; in some cases, the diarrhea can be severe enough to be life threatening. Sometimes a dog having coccidia will bleed from it's rectum. Eradication of this parasite is usually successful with a daily dose of a sulfonamide antimicrobial agent. Info taken from: http://www.faribaultanimalcenter.com/read_article.php?type=1&id=26

GIARDIA is a tiny parasite which can cause true diarrhea and flatulence. Dogs will lose weight, become dehydrated and even pass blood. Simple routine fecal flotation of a pet's stool in an animal hospital setting often will fail to reveal these tiny, nearly translucent parasites. Many veterinarians will send stool samples to a professional veterinary lab with a "heads up" regarding using special stains for Giardia. Clinical signs range from none in asymptomatic carriers, to mild recurring diarrhea consisting of soft, light-colored stools, to acute explosive diarrhea in severe cases. Other signs associated with giardiasis are weight loss, listlessness, mucus in the stool, and poor appetite. These signs are also associated with other diseases of the intestinal tract, and are not specific to giardiasis; therefore positive identification of these organisms is an important aspect of a thorough patient work up. Diagnosis is confirmed by finding the cysts or motile stages in feces. A negative report does not rule out Giardia! Because cysts are only passed periodically, several fecal examinations may be necessary to diagnose this parasite. At least three fecal samples, examined over a period of seven to ten days, should be examined. Special stains can be used, too, to assist in identifying these microscopic invaders.

Treatment for Giardia There are two antiprotozoal drugs commonly recommended, to treat Giardia; metronidazole and quinacrine. Contact your veterinarian for the one best suited for your dog. All infected animals should be treated whether or not they show clinical signs. Giardia can be contracted from water sources such as streams of water or other watering places your dog has access to. It may not always be associated with the food given him or the grass he eats. Information taken from: http://www.thepetcenter.com/exa/gia.html 

THREAD WORMS are present in the United Kingdom and also in the United States of America. This type of worm is able to affect dogs, cats, horses, rats and pigs. They are intestinal parasites and each subtype can infect different species than other subtypes. A threadworm infection in the animal can sometimes lead to death in young puppies.

Strongyloides in Dogs Dogs are infected by the species of threadworm called the Strongyloides stercoralis, although it is also able to infect cats. This parasite is extremely thin and, as is implied by the name, has a thread like appearance. It is inside the intestine of the dog that the threadworm resides and reproduces. Once the eggs have hatched, the dog defecates and passes out the larvae in its faecal matter. The animals more susceptible to contracting this internal parasite are dogs living in unhygienic areas and in overcrowded areas. Transmission can occur once the larvae have burrowed through the skin of an animal, such as the dog, that it comes into contact with. They are able to rapidly multiply irrespective of the presence of the animal thus increasing the chance of it being transmitted. Some infected dogs may not show any signs or symptoms. However, others may be severely affected showing signs of diarrhea or problems within the respiratory tract. Humans can become infected by this parasite and so it is known as zoonotic. Infected humans show signs of dermatitis.

Transmission of Threadworms Threadworms are transmitted from the environment to the animal when the parasitic larvae burrow into the skin of the host and infect the tissues, usually those of the small intestine. Once inside the dog, threadworms rapidly reproduce in the small intestine. Puppies may become infected by the disease if suckling from an affected mother. This generally occurs if the larvae have travelled to the mammary glands. The threadworms can remain in an animal’s tissues longer even than a year. The threadworms S. Stercoralis have the ability to multiply whether or not in the presence of its host. This increases the risk for dogs to come into contact with and thus become infected with the worm. The parasites are best suited to hot and humid environments. Larvae can be found in faecal and other decaying matter.

Signs and Symptoms of Threadworms The majority of dogs are asymptomatic during an infection of the threadworm. This means that they show no signs or symptoms. In other cases, there may be signs of dermatitis in areas where the larvae burrow through the skin. Either mild or severe diarrhea may be observed, the severity generally increasing the younger the puppy. The dog could be weak or dehydrated. A loss in appetite and weight may also be a result of a threadworm infection. Re-infection sometimes happens if the larvae travel to the lungs and are coughed up, later to be swallowed back into the gut. Therefore, coughing may also be another sign. Bronchopneumonia can affect threadworm infected dogs.

Treatment of Threadworms There are available treatments to deal with a threadworm infection although they have limited success since the larvae of the parasite live inside the tissues. It is therefore difficult for the medication to gain access to these tissues. These medications often include the use of Fenbendazole and Ivermectin which are given orally. In the most severe cases, fluids are administered to replace those lost as well as electrolytes to treat any imbalance of these important substances.

Prevention from S. Stercoralis Infection As is the fundamental rule of medicine: “Prevention is better than cure”. Clearly, it is in the best interests of both dog and owner for preventative measures to be put into place. High levels of hygiene are a necessity as well as regular worming. Due to the fact that the parasite thrives in hot and humid areas, it is essential to maintain a basic cleaning routine which ensures a dry environment for the dog which also has good levels of hygiene. All fecal matter should be immediately removed to prevent the spread of threadworm. In parks and other areas where dogs come into contact with, the dog should be discouraged from going anywhere near to feces. Animals diagnosed with threadworm should be treated as soon as possible and isolated for a short period of time to prevent the larvae migrating and infecting other animals. Previously infected animals should be regularly tested to ensure no re-infection has occurred. All areas within the home and garden should be cleaned which have come into contact with the infected animal.

Diagnosis of a Threadworm Infection There are various methods of diagnosis where threadworms are concerned. These include routine baseline tests, a direct fecal exam and a test known as the Baermann technique. In cases of dermatitis, a skin scraping may be acquired to detect the presence of the parasite following the use of a microscope. The routine baseline tests are usually the only test required to provide a positive diagnosis. These simply test the blood for a full blood count and a biochemical profile is acquired. Urine samples are also taken to test for a thread worm infection. A fresh fecal sample is also sometimes required to detect and identify the presence of threadworms in a dog. In effect, this method uses a microscope to find the eggs and larvae of S. Stercoralis in the dog’s feces. The dog suspected of an infection has its feces smeared on a microscope slide with a special solution for a positive diagnosis. A more reliable method is the Baermann technique. This provides an easier method of spotting the tiny larvae which may be difficult to see in the already mentioned methods. A sample of the infected animal’s feces is taken, wrapped in cloth and is then placed in warm water. Here there is a funnel with a rubber tube clamped off at its bottom to reduce any water escaping. The rubber tubing leads to a conical flask, or a collecting jar. The larvae that may be present will migrate naturally travel out of the cloth and into the warm water where they sink to the bottom of the collection of water. Once the clamp is opened a single drop of water is collected. This drop should then contain a high concentration of the larvae which can then be examined microscopically.

Prognosis of Threadworm Infections Several infected puppies may die following infection and if they are left untreated. In older dogs it is rare for the disease to cause any major adverse health problems. Treatment is not always completely successful since the larvae can migrate deep into the tissues of the dog.

Wormy Dogs? Understand Dog Worms Infestation and Their Symptoms by~ Moses Chia

Until a very recent period, dog worms were thought to be of a spontaneous origin, brought about by the influence of heat upon decaying vegetable matter, and it was and still is freely asserted that puppies are born with dog worms inherited from the mother in some mysterious manner while still in uterus. This has been conclusively proven an error and in the minds of all scientists there is no question about dog worms springing from individual eggs and having a complete life history of their own. The principal worm species with which dog owners have to contend are round worms and tape worms. The first named commonly infest puppies and consequently are most dreaded by breeders. In shape and size these worms resemble common angle worms, but in color are lighter, being almost white or only a pale pink. In adult dogs these worms, when full grown, are from three to seven inches long. In puppies they are about half that length, and as thick as common white string. Round worms live in the small intestines, sometimes coiled in such masses as to obstruct the passage, and occasionally they wander into the stomach or are passed by the bowels. It is easy to understand that when one dog in a kennel is infected with worms, millions of eggs will be passed with the feces. These are scattered all over the floors, bedding, feeding and drinking pans. They get on the dog's coat, are licked off and swallowed and in numbers of ways gain entrance to the digestive tracts of other dogs, where they soon hatch out and in ten days are fully developed. This rapid development account for the popular belief that puppies are born with worms, for breeders who have held post-mortems on puppies scarcely ten days old and have found in their stomachs fully developed round worms could account for their presence in no other way. They overlooked the fact that the prospective mother, confined in a kennel infested with worms, would get these eggs attached to her coat, belly and breasts, and the young, as soon as born, would take these eggs into their stomachs with the first mouthfuls of milk.

Symptoms Of Worm Attack Dog worms are responsible for so much sickness and so many symptoms that it is practically impossible to mention all of them, but their presence can safely be suspected in all dogs which have not been recently treated for them, as well as in cases where the patient is run down, unthrifty and out of sorts. Other symptoms are a hot, dry nose, weak, watery eyes, pale lips and gums, foul breath, mean hacking cough and a red, scurfy, pimply or irritated condition of the skin and harsh, dry, staring coat that is constantly being shed. Wormy dogs sometimes have a depraved appetite and will eat dirt and rubbish. Some days they are ravenously hungry, the next day they will not eat at all; their sleep is disturbed by dreams and intestinal rumbling, the urine is high colored and frequently passed, bowels irregular, stomach easily unsettled, watery mucus is frequently vomited and the mouth is hot, sticky and full of ropy saliva. Puppies which are full of worms bloat easily and are pot-bellied. After feeding their stomachs distend disproportionately to the amount of food consumed. Their bodies are also subject to scaly eruptions and their bowels to colicky pains; they do not grow as rapidly as healthy puppies should and instead of playing with each other they curl up and sleep hour after hour; they get thinner, weaker and more lifeless from day to day and if they do not waste away or die in fits and convulsions with frothing at the mouth and champing of the jaws, grow up coarse-jointed, rickety and misshapen. Puppies with worms are also liable to paralysis of their rear limbs and on removal of the worms the puppies regain control of the affected parts. A wormy dog is usually an unhealthy and unhappy dog who leads a miserable life. It could even be deadly, especially so for young puppies. Bring your dog to a veterinarian if you are unsure. Your dog will certainly thank you for that.