Different Types of Puppy Parasites

Bulldog puppy panting in man's arms

 Getty Images/Jenny Anderson/Contributor

The word parasite refers to an organism that lives off of another—in this case your puppy—at the expense of that puppy. Parasites may live on the skin, beneath the skin, inside the body in your puppy's intestines, or even in the bloodstream. They may be bugs you see, fungus that's microscopic, or single-cell organisms like protozoan. These parasites can cause aggravating symptoms at best and deathly illness at worst.

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    Puppy Fleas

    Fleas are the most common type of parasite affecting puppies. These tiny bloodsuckers can cause severe itching. Fleas can cause skin damage from scratching, severe allergic reactions and hair loss, as well as hot spots. Fleas also can transmit infectious agents with their bite.

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    Puppies and Ticks

    Ticks have "ticked off" pet lovers and puppies for years. There are many varieties, and while one or two may not cause your puppy major problems, the blood sucker's bite often leads to hot spots. Ticks also can transmit infectious agents with their bite, including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and tick fever.

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    Sarcoptic Mange and Scabies

    A very contagious and common skin disorder of puppies, caused by a mite, is canine scabies—also known as sarcoptic mange. This disease causes intense itching and can permanently damage the puppy's skin.

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    Demodectic Mange

    Caused by a cigar-shaped skin mite, a few of these parasites are considered normal if found on your puppy. Young dogs may have a flare up of "red mange" on their face and legs, too, and usually, that can resolve with treatment and never be a problem again. But when the puppy's immune system can't keep them under control, severe disease can cause terrible skin sores, hair loss or even kill your puppy.

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    Ringworm is a unique parasite—a fungus—that affects the puppy's skin and coat. But it can masquerade and mimic many other skin and coat conditions and requires special techniques to diagnose.

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    What Are Ear Mites

    Earotitisear infections are serious, but especially in puppies. Making sure you know how to treat ear mites in puppies is very important. 

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    Almost all puppies are born with roundworms or contract them when they nurse from their mother. There are extreme dangers with roundworms. The signs are recognizable and thankfully treatable. But preventing them in your puppy is your best bet at a happy, healthy dog.

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    You won't see these tiny works, but the hookworm parasite can be deadly for young puppies. Even though adult dogs can develop immunity, they also can be at risk for this blood-sucking worm.

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    Does your puppy have fleas? Then chances are she also will develop tapeworms. You'll see them squiggling along like ​inchworms on the fur near her bottom under her tail, or in her bedding. Yes, these are nasty parasites but can be easily prevented.

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    Whipworms are a less common but potentially dangerous intestinal parasite of puppies. They are called "whip worms" because they look like tiny whips. You won't see these in the puppy's stool, though, and the eggs are microscopic and must be identified by the veterinarian to diagnose. Whipworms can be difficult to get rid of, too, because they can survive in the environment and re-infect your baby dog time and again, often in conjunction with hookworms.

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    Giardia in puppies can be difficult to diagnose and is a common cause of puppy diarrhea.

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    Some intestinal puppy parasites are so tiny, it requires a microscope to find them—but they can still cause great health problems. Coccidia is a protozoan as is giardia, and both can be contracted from the environment.

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    Salmonella is a bacteria that has been known to contaminate human food and cause food poisoning, and it also can affect puppies. Salmonella is found in the environment and some animals, or their feces. Puppies may become sick from eating contaminated raw foods, "varmints" or animal droppings, and sometimes even commercial pet foods become contaminated. It can make puppies very sick and causes diarrhea and vomiting.

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    Heartworms hide on the inside of your puppy and are an insidious parasite transmitted by mosquitoes that can cause heart and lung damage and ultimately kill your pet. Thankfully, there are very effective preventive medications available.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.