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Worms In Dogs: 10 Facts You Need To Know
Nobody likes the thought that their pet may be carrying worms: the thought of living, wriggling, repulsive, slimy parasites inside our pets fills us with horror. Added to this, there's the fear that dog worms can cause illness – in pets, and indeed in ourselves. Read on to learn about the symptoms of worms in dogs, and to learn what you need to do to minimise their impact on your dog – and on your family.
1. Dogs don't always show any signs of dog worms
The symptoms of worms in dogs are not always what people expect, and indeed, often there are no discernible signs of worms at all. Dogs can carry an internal worm burden – in their intestines or in their lungs – without showing any immediate signs of illness. Despite this apparent good health, internally the worms can be causing serious issues (e.g. Lungworms can stop the blood from clotting) and can cause the dog to shed dangerous worm eggs (e.g. Toxocara canis). This lack of obvious signs of worms in dogs is the main reason why vets recommend routine de-worming, even when animals appear to be in full health.
2. Sledging or scooting does not always mean that a dog has worms
There’s a widespread misconception that when a dog rubs its bottom along the ground (sledging or scooting), worms are always the cause. This is not at all true: there are dozens of other possible causes, most of which are more common than worms in dogs. Examples include impacted or infected anal sacs, dietary and environmental allergies and many other causes of itchy skin. If your dog spends a lot of time sledging or scooting, you should get your vet to take a look: a simple physical examination is often enough to establish the cause. Treatment for worms may still be recommended, but worms are rarely the main cause of this problem.
3. Symptoms of worms in dogs can be dramatic
A wide range of signs of worms in dogs can be seen, including ravenous appetite, weight loss, gastrointestinal upsets (such as vomiting or diarrhoea), pot-bellied appearance, and a dry or scurfy coat. While worms are usually only associated minor signs of ill-health in dogs, but there are rare examples where life-threatening illnesses can be caused by worms. The two most common examples are roundworms in puppies (the immature immune system allows the worms to proliferate in the intestines to such as extent that they can cause an overwhelming infestation) and some cases of lungworm. Lungworms can cause coughing or difficulty breathing, but sometimes they can also prevent the blood from clotting. This can lead to unexpected haemorrhage, and there have been cases where dogs have died suddenly from brain haemorrhage, with no prior warning: it's only on autopsy that worms are found in the lungs, pinpointing them as the hidden cause of haemorrhage. Monthly worming using a specific anti-lungworm product can be the only way to prevent this type of scenario.
4. Dog worms can be dangerous to humans
The common dog worm, Toxocara Canis, can be passed on to humans. While a healthy adult human's immune system can deal effectively with the challenge, if children ingest infective worm eggs, the worm larvae can migrate through the child's tissues. If larvae end up in the brain or eye of a child, there can be very serious consequences including seizures or blindness. This zoonotic potential is the reason why routine worming of family dogs is so important.
5. The environment needs to be protected against worms as well as the dog
As well as treating dogs for worms, it makes sense to take steps to minimise any risk of children ingesting dog worm eggs from the environment. This is why it's so important to remove faeces from any environment that is frequented by children (e.g. poop scooping in gardens and public places) and why hygiene measures are essential (e.g. hand washing before meals) in order to reduce the risk of worm infection. Worm eggs can survive for many years in the environment which is why it’s so important to prevent them from getting there in the first place (by worming dogs regularly and picking up poops).
6. Fresh dog poop does not contain dangerous worm eggs
I have been contacted by parents, distraught at the fact that their child has just accidentally contacted fresh dog faeces, and worried that this will automatically lead to blindness. The fact is that dog worm eggs only become dangerous to humans once they’ve incubated in the environment for a few weeks, giving the eggs time to mature to the infective stage. So the risk is old dog faeces, which is another reason why it’s so important to scoop that fresh poop.
7. Puppies need to be wormed more often than adult dogs
Worming puppies repeatedly is a key part of their care. Puppies need to be given a worming dose every two weeks between four weeks and twelve weeks of age, because their immature immune system means that a single worm dose is not enough to eradicate the worms that they have picked up from their mother (both in the womb, via suckling, and from the breeding environment.) In contrast, a typical adult dog may need to be wormed only once every three months (although some individuals may need more – or less- frequent worm treatments).
8. Individualised worming recommendations are the best way to treat worms in dogs
The risk of dogs picking up worms is directly related to individual characteristics of particular circumstances. Just as pups need to be wormed more often than adults, dogs that habitually eat slugs and snails need more frequent worm doses than apartment-dwelling dogs that rarely venture outdoors. Some dog worms are more common in certain parts of the country, relating to climate and other factors. Some vets recommend routine worming with tablets, while others recommend spot-on products, and others will request faecal samples to test for worms. The key message is that every dog is different, needing a custom-designed anti-worm regime.
9. Over-the-counter wormers need to be used with care
Dog wormers can be bought from many outlets, including supermarkets and pet shops as well as vet clinics, but there are key differences between different types of worm treatments. For example roundworms in dogs can be treated with one product, while tapeworms in dogs may require a different tablet. It's a waste of time trying to treat tapeworms with a product aimed at roundworms. For this reason, the inexpensive product in the supermarket can easily end up failing to solve your problem. To be sure that you are using the appropriate worm treatment, it's safest to talk to your vet, who will be able to match the right product to your pet's needs.
10. If you are travelling overseas, special worming may be needed
Heartworm is common in many overseas locations, and regular specific preventive heartworm treatment is essential if you are visiting such places with your pet. And when returning from many foreign destinations with your dog, you are required to have tapeworm treatment certified by a local vet in your Pet Passport. Talk to your vet before travel to ensure that you protect your dog against any exotic worms they may encounter.
Worms have been around for as long as dogs, and they’ll continue to cause health issues for pets and people. However logical and appropriate use of anti-worm medications means that this risk can easily be kept to a minimum.
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