At some point in their lives, many pets experience discomfort caused by parasites such as fleas, ticks, or roundworms. While fleas and ticks can sometimes be easy for dog parents to spot and identify, that is not always the case, and internal parasites can be present in your dog without you realizing it. These parasites can be extremely irritating to pets and can cause serious skin problems or even carry disease. Modern medicines make treatment, control, and prevention of many external parasites much easier than in the past
Some parasites are also zoonotic, meaning a disease or parasite that can be transmitted from animal to people. Every dog parent needs to know about common intestinal parasites and how to prevent them from causing serious health problems for both four- and two-legged family members.
01 of 08
Fleas can make your pet's life miserable. Fleas progress through several distinct life stages in which the pests transform from eggs into larvae, then into pupae, and then finally into reproducing, blood-sucking adults.
Fleas can lead to flea allergy dermatitis with itching and skin infections. Fleas are also carriers of tapeworm eggs and your dog can be infested by tapeworm after eating a flea. A large infestation with fleas can also lead to anemia. While dog and cat fleas don't live on humans, you can definitely feel their bites.
02 of 08
Ticks can attach themselves to dogs as well as to humans. While you might wear protective clothing when in tick-prone areas, your dog is exposed. Early detection and removal of ticks are important as it takes some time for the tick to transmit tick-borne diseases to their hosts. Diseases spread by ticks to dogs include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, bartonellosis, and ehrlichiosis.
03 of 08
Ear mites are microscopic mites that infect dog’s ears, where they breed and cause thick black debris and discomfort. Ear mites are highly contagious, and animals become infested by direct contact with another infested animal.
Your dog may show head shaking, scratching at the ears, and crusty or waxy discharge that looks like coffee grounds. Your veterinarian can diagnose ear mites with an examination, looking at a sample of ear debris under a microscope, and give one-time or repeated treatments. Ear mites don't infect humans.
04 of 08
Hookworms are small, thin worms that are less than an inch long. These intestinal parasites that are common in dogs. There are three species of hookworms that affect dogs. Some can also affect humans, migrating through the skin.
Dogs pick up hookworms by ingesting the larvae they pick up from the environment or, in puppies, from the mom's milk. Symptoms include diarrhea, loss of appetite, anemia, weight loss, or failure to gain weight.
A veterinarian can check for hookworm in the stool. Treatment includes deworming medications that must be used repeatedly to eliminate the larvae as they mature. Regular deworming will help prevent recurrence.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
Whipworms are intestinal parasites (Trichuris) that are relatively common in dogs and occasionally seen in cats. These small worms have a thin, whip-like front end and a thicker back end. They attach themselves to the walls of the large intestine, feeding on blood.
Dogs pick up whipworm eggs transmitted through the stool in the environment. A light infection has no symptoms. A heavier infection can result in weight loss, diarrhea, or anemia. A veterinarian can detect the eggs under the microscope during a stool examination.
Whipworms are resistant to many of the usual dewormer medications, so a different medication is usually used. Keeping the environment clean of feces is the best prevention as the worm eggs take weeks to become infectious.
06 of 08
Roundworms, including Toxocara Canis and Toxocara leonina, are intestinal parasites in dogs. They absorb nutrients from the food the dog eats, which results in less being available for the dog. Infection can occur after ingesting eggs shed in stool or from larvae transmitted during pregnancy or in the mother's milk.
A dog may show vomiting, lethargy, weight loss, diarrhea, and a pot belly. A veterinarian can detect roundworms in the stool. Deworming medication can be used, with a number of treatments in order to clear the roundworms as they mature. A regular deworming protocol is needed to prevent reinfection.
Roundworms can be transmitted to humans. They cause inflammation and can migrate to various tissues and organs.
07 of 08
Tapeworms are flat, ribbon-like parasites that live in the intestines. Happily, they rarely cause serious disease. Dipylidium caninum is the most common one for dogs, but there are other species. They are transmitted by eating raw meat or by fleas.
Tapeworms can cause irritation around the anus, due to the shed segments of the worm. A puppy may scoot around on the floor or lick the area. Infestation can result in poor nutrition for the dog or even an intestinal blockage in severe cases.
A veterinarian can diagnose tapeworms by a stool exam and examination of the hair around the anus. Medication is needed to clear the infection, accompanied by good flea control and keeping the dog from eating dead prey.
08 of 08
Heartworm disease is caused by a large roundworm parasite that lives mainly in the blood vessels of the lung and in the heart. It is transmitted by mosquitoes. While heartworm is most prevalent in the Southern states, it has been seen in every state.
Your veterinarian will usually test for heartworm during each check-up. A dog with heartworm infestation may show no symptoms at first, but as it progresses it can be fatal. Dogs can develop a cough (including coughing up blood), become exhausted from exercise, faint, and have severe weight loss.
Once a dog is infested with heartworm, medication is needed to kill the parasite. The dog will need complete rest during the treatment period in order to prevent dangerous complications from the dying worms.
Fortunately, heartworm disease is easy to prevent. Any number of proven, safe preventions exist, which are used to prevent heartworms and several intestinal parasites when administered on a monthly basis.
If a mosquito bites an infected dog, the parasite can then produce larvae inside the mosquito, and these can be transmitted to humans. In humans, the parasite most often causes lung lesions. Preventing the disease in your pets can help protect you, as well.
How to Prevent Parasites in Dogs
- Annual veterinary visits: Preventive care and regular fecal exams are helpful to catch the infestation in its early stages.
- Keep your pet on flea/tick/ and heartworm prevention year-round: Ask your veterinarian which parasites are a problem in your area. There are parts of the country where certain internal parasites are less of a concern and others where year-round prevention is imperative. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you what to watch for according to your geographic location, how these parasites can be transmitted to your pet and prescribe the most appropriate preventive products.
- Clean up after your dog: Pick up your dog’s feces promptly to reduce the risk of environmental contamination. Protect hands while cleaning up the feces and wash hands afterwards.