It's not a pleasant topic, but it's an important one and one that all dog owners should be aware of and on the look out for; WORMS!
When my brother moved to Pittsburgh for school he felt a bit lonely in his apartment so he adopted Nikki, a Beagle/Chihuahua mix and Katrina survivor. She spent several months bumming it around Pittsburgh with my brother, sleeping in hubcaps when we was at the garage with his buddies and peeing on his pillow when he stayed out too late. Eventually she made her way back to my parents house where she ended up bunking permanently. I'll never forget that first night.
My friends and family have often referred to me as the "dog whisperer" so it was no surprise that Nikki choose my bed to sleep in that first night. No biggy, not like I didn't welcome the furry snuggles. Little did I know I would get a lot more than just some snuggles.
"Bri, it's time to get up."
Mom opens the shades and I hear a small, but audible gasp.
"Bri, go in the shower right now. Don't touch your hair or look in the mirror, just get in the shower and make sure you wash your hair really, really well."
"Mom, what are you talking about?"
"Just go, Bri. Into the shower, now!"
I stumbled my way to the bathroom and closed the door, reached for the shower and then pass a glance into the mirror.
"What the hell?! What's in my hair? It looks like rice..."
I didn't know at the time, but what was in my hair were tapeworms. Nikki had been given a dewormer at some point before coming to my parents house and the little buggers vacated her rump and crawled out to die on my pillow and in my hair!
*Insert gagging noises*
Now, for the different types of worms
Tapeworms are one of the most common worms to be found hiding out inside your dogs intestinal tract. Tapeworm larva or eggs can be ingested by your dog when they snack on the carcass of deceased animals or rodents. Tapeworms can also be contracted by ingesting fleas or flea eggs. Chances are, if your dog has had fleas, they likely have Tapeworms.
Tapeworms are composed of up to 90 segments (see the picture at the beginning of this article for a better visual) and the last segment is what breaks off and can be seen in stool or hanging around the underside of the tail. They can grow to be 4 to 6 inches long and require a prescription from your veterinarian to kill off a infestation, over the counter dewormers will not work on tapeworms.
Roundworm are small worms that most puppies and kittens are born with. The worms are introduced in moms uterus, but they can also be transferred through moms milk. They can grow up to 5 inches in length and take root in the intestines. Eggs or larva are present in stool so if fecal matter is consumed by another animal, they too will contract Roundworm.
Female Roundworm can produce as many as 200,000 eggs per day! Roundworm eggs are protected by a hard outer shell making it possible for them to survive for years in soil.
Roundworm will need to be treated by a veterinary as the over the counter dewormers will only kill adults, not eggs. If left untreated Roundworm can cause death as blockages can form.
Whipworms are most commonly found in adult dogs and resemble a piece of thread with a single engorged end. They are seldom seen in stool samples and for that reason can be hard to diagnose. They thrive in the cecum or first compartment of the large intestine and shed few eggs making diagnosis even more difficult.
Whipworms are most commonly ingested through contaminated food, water or soil, but can also be found in the flesh of dead animals or feces. Whipworm larva can live for months or even years in the right environment.
Dogs who have contracted Whipworms are likely to have chronic weight loss issues and often present with bowel movements covered in mucus, especially the end of a fecal deposit. They can also present with symptoms of dehydration or anemia, but can be asymptomatic as well. Treatment is often administered based on circumstantial evidence and consist of medication to kill both adult worms and larva.
Hookworm larvae hatch from eggs and can remain active for weeks or months given the right conditions. They are very small parasites with fang like teeth who take up residency in the small intestine and suck blood.
Puppies most commonly contract Hookworm from their mothers during feeding, but adult dogs contract the parasite through inadvertently swallowing larvae when sniffing contaminated feces or soil or when grooming their feet after having walked through polluted ground. Hookworm can also be contracted through the consumption of contaminated water.
Symptoms of Hookworm infestation are; diarrhea, weight loss, anemia, weakness or lack of stamina. The lining of the nostrils, ears and lips could also be pale in color and if larvae have enter the lungs a cough could be present. Stool samples from Hookworm infested dogs are often dark and tarry, or the dog may present with symptoms of constipation.
If not diagnosed and treated accordingly, Hookworms can be fatal, especially in puppies or dogs with compromised immune systems such as the elderly.
Unfortunately, if your dog goes outside (I certainly hope they do!) or has contact with other animals, there isn't a 100% fool proof way to prevent worms, but there are a few things you can do to decrease the likelihood of an infestation.
1. Picking up moon pies regularly is super important. Worms like the moist, dark environment not to mention an abundance of poop in the yard can be smelly and pose other health risks to your dog.
2. Wash your dogs blankets and other bedding regularly. Washing will remove debris and help to prevent fleas or other parasites/pest from nesting or breeding in or on your dogs bed or blankets.
3. Steer clear of moon pies left by other animals while walking your dog. Dogs like to walk with their noses to the ground, taking in the sights and smells of other furry critters that came before them. Sadly, this means they are often smelling the feces and urine of other animals, other animals that may have a worm infestation.
4. Keep your dog up-to-date on flea treatment and Heartworm preventative (if you are not familiar with Heartworms please read my previous blog post here). Depending on which Heartworm preventative you are using, many of them also protect against certain intestinal parasites, as well.
5. Have your dogs fecal sample checked frequently and talk with your veterinary about the best ways to keep your dog, based on yours and their lifestyles, free from worms.
Please keep in mind, the above (4) worm types are not the only types of worms a dog can contract. There are several others such as Lungworm and Heartworms, these are just the most common.
So remember, if a family member brings home a new fur kid and that fur kid decides to sleep with you, don't be surprised if you wake up with rice on your pillow!
With over 10 years of experience through ownership and rescue work, I hope to share my knowledge and insight to happier, healthier fur kids. Have a question, feel free to ask!