My Dog Has Worms?!

Did your dog vomit worms?  Have some in the feces?  Found little ‘rice-like’ segments stuck to the fur around the bum/tail, inching around?  Or simply had diarrhea and was found on fecal exam? This can obviously be disconcerting, but is relatively easy to take care of.

Roundworms, Hookworms, Whipworms, and Tapeworms  . . . Oh My!

These are typically the 4 types of intestinal worms that cause problems in this general area and can cause serious illness in young puppies, but are only occasionally life-threatening in adult dogs (usually only if they were already sick to begin with).  Heartworm disease, on the other hand, is a major life-threatening problem transmitted by mosquitoes; though it is not very common in the Atlantic Provinces.

How did my dog get worms?

Roundworms :  Infective stage are the microscopic eggs that pass in feces of affected dogs.

  • Orally – If a dog sniffs, licks, or eats feces that are contaminated with microscopic roundworm eggs.
  • Though the mother’s placenta before birth.
  • Through the mother’s milk.
  • Orally – If a dog swallows the larva (from toys contaminated with infective soil, grooming their paws, sniffing feces or infected soil)
  • Through the skin – Larvae can actually burrow into the skin (usually paw-pads or belly)
  • Though the mother’s placenta before birth.
  • Through the mother’s milk.

Hookworms: A single female worm can pass 100s of microscopic eggs in the feces and contaminate the grass and soil.  These eggs become microscopic larva which can survive in the soil for weeks to months!

Whipworms: These worms also pass microscopic eggs in the feces, but must mature to the infective stage for 10-60 days (so pick up your dog’s poop!).  These eggs can stay viable in the environment for up to 5 years!!  Dogs are only infected if they eat a matured egg.

Tapeworms: These are long worms that hook onto the inner lining of the intestines and are made up of tiny (3-5mm) segments called “proglottids”. Once the proglottids mature, they break off from the end of the worm and exit through the anus.  They are usually seen stuck to the fur around the bum. Once in the environment the proglottids crack open, releasing fertilized eggs.  Theses eggs are either eaten by flea larvae or mice and mature in this ‘intermediate host’.  Dogs can only be infected if they eat an infected flea or mouse

How Are Worms Diagnosed?

Affected puppies typically have stunted growth, potbelly, bad gas and recurring diarrhea.  Adult dogs may have symptoms ranging from none to chronic recurring bloody diarrhea.  Tapeworms are typically diagnosed by owners having found the rice-like ‘proglottids’ on the fur or bedding.  For a definite answer microscopic examination of the feces is required.  Whipworm infections can be a little more difficult to diagnose because these parasites pass small numbers of eggs on an irregular basis.  Furthermore, it can take up to 3 months for these worms to start shedding eggs from the time of infection (and onset of symptoms).  This is why we sometimes treat for worms even if none were found.

How Do I Submit a Fecal Sample?

  • You may want to wear plastic gloves.
  • Walk your dog on-leash outside (or in an enclosed area with no other dogs or BMs present).
  • If very soft, use a plastic spoon to pick up about 1-2tbsp of fresh feces and place in a clean disposable container.
  • If hard, use an inverted baggie or poo-bag.
  • Submit within 4 hours of collection.  Up to 24 hours old samples are still viable, but store in a cool, dry place away from sunlight (ie: double bagged in the fridge).
  • Dispose of latex gloves and collection tools.
  • Wash hands immediately with soap and warm water for as long as it takes you to sing “Happy Birthday”.

How Are Worms Treated?

Depending on the type of worm present, there are different drugs and treatment protocols possible.  Most infestations are pretty easily treated.  Also, most monthly heartworm preventatives also contain deworming medications that can treat whips, rounds, and hooks.

Can I Get Worms From My Dog?

Roundworms: Not directly, you would have to eat a flea in order to be infected.  Vigorous flea control should be used to eliminate this risk to children.

Hookworms: Larvae can burrow just as easily into our bare skin as dogs and causes “ground itch” and may even have worms visible just under the skin.  These worms may even travel from the skin into the eyes and internal organs.  You must have direct contact from skin to moist infected soil.

Whipworms: NOPE!  This is exclusive a disease of dogs!

Tapeworms:  Not directly.  Sometimes children can swallow an infected flea and become infected that way.  Thus re-enforcing the importance of strict flea control!

This is why it is so important to pick up your dog’s poop immediately!  Your back yard could be littered with maturing and infective eggs and larva. OR ELSE NO playing barefoot in the backyard this summer!!