Worms are parasites that are more than just a nuisance. They can kill pups and make adult dogs very unwell.
In addition, worms from pets can potentially cause disease in people - children, the elderly, those who are immunosuppressed or have a chronic illness are most susceptible.
Dog owners need to be particularly aware of the danger of worms and how to prevent them.
Dogs can become infected with four different types of intestinal worms, namely: hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms and whipworms. There are several different varieties of each type.
How do I know if my dog has worms?
Regretfully, you may not know your dog has worms until it is sick. In puppies, a worm infection can cause a life threatening condition to develop quickly. Contrary to common belief, it is not common to see worms in a dog or puppy's droppings under normal circumstances. Under a heavy load, a roundworm may be passed, and this indicates a significant problem.
With hookworms in young pups, you are likely to see soft tar-like faeces that develop into diarrhoea, usually with blood staining of the faeces. The blood loss in puppies can be extreme and a serious anaemia is a common, fatal side effect. Hookworms are quite small so it is not common to see hookworms in the animal’s droppings after proper treatment.
Roundworms are a big worm, measuring up to 18cm in length. They are a particular problem in puppies as they are spread to them while they are in the mother’s uterus. Thus, pups can be born with a roundworm infestation.
Roundworms cause diarrhoea, sometimes with blood staining, and can commonly cause a blockage of the bowel due to their large size. Affected puppies have a ‘pot-bellied’ appearance and a rough coat. Such puppies are often ‘poor doers’.
After treatment, it is common to see several of these large roundworms in the animal’s droppings.
Tapeworms are a common problem in dogs, especially the flea tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum). Surprisingly, although they are quite big (up to half a metre long), they cause only mild disease. They are one, but not the only, cause of 'scooting' behaviour of dogs. This unusual behaviour is where a dog rubs its bottom along the ground. The irritation is due to the emergence of tapeworm segments from the dog's anus. The segments are easy to identify. They are the size of a rice grain and are quite active. They will wriggle visibly and can be seen with the naked eye on the dog's droppings or on its fur around its bottom. By continually 'scooting', a dog will occasionally cause a lot of self-inflicted irritation around the skin of its anus.
The last worm, the whipworm, is a medium size worm that affects the lower bowel of dogs. It again causes diarrhoea, which characteristically contains mucus and often some fresh blood.
How can I get rid of worms?
Worms can be eliminated with common worming medications that are available from your veterinarian. Be sure to choose a medication that will treat all four worms that your pup can be affected by. However, if your pup is already unwell, it may need other medication to control any diarrhoea that is present and to build up reserves of, for instance, iron that may be depleted from continual blood loss. For advice on this, you should consult your veterinarian. Your vet's advice should certainly be sought if your pup is weak and lethargic or if it is vomiting and you suspect it has a worm infestation.
How can I prevent worm infestations?
Preventing worm infestations is a very important matter. Puppies under three months of age should be wormed every two weeks from two weeks of age onwards. There are various worming suspensions that are ideal for puppies of this young age.
Once the pup reaches three months of age is it advisable to worm it every month until it is six months old and thereafter it should be wormed every three months.
Many owners place their dogs onto a monthly heartworm medication that also contains an intestinal worming medication. This is a good idea as the dog is wormed for the common worms every month. However, the monthly heartworm/intestinal worm combination does not treat all intestinal worms, e.g. tapeworms. Therefore, worming an adult dog that is on such a medication with a tapewormer should still be done every three months (or 6 weeks in hydatid areas).
There are so many alternatives when using worming preparations for your dogs and cats, so to ensure you are getting it right, consult with your veterinarian.