With warmer temperatures comes more frequent trips outdoors, from the park to hiking trails to the wilderness. If you’re the type of dog owner who loves bringing Fido along for every outdoor excursion, you should know about the health risks that await.
One common problem dogs and their owners encounter while out and about is parasitic worms. Whether intestinal or otherwise, worms can cause your dog serious discomfort—or worse. Here’s what you should know to prevent them.
What are worms?
Parasitic worms find their way into your dog’s body in a number of ways—usually when it is outside. There are numerous kinds of worms your dog may contract, all of which are largely preventable.
Intestinal worms include tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms and whipworms. These worms typically live in the large and small intestines and often latch to the intestinal wall to feed on blood or nutrients. The presence of worms in your dog’s GI tract can cause intestinal upset. If left untreated, intestinal worms can lead to serious problems like anemia or dehydration.
Heartworms are not the same as intestinal parasites. Instead of affecting the GI tract, heartworms settle in your dog’s heart and arteries. They are spread through the bites of infected mosquitos. Heartworm is generally a much more severe condition and may require fast veterinary action to prevent life-threatening side effects.
These sneaky parasites find their way into your dog’s system through bug bites, hiding in things your dog eats and living in the soil. Without adequate protection, your dog may be at risk every time it goes outside.
One of the most common ways dogs contract worms is by eating feces. Parasites are shed through infected animals’ feces, and eggs are transported into new hosts when they eat the contaminated feces. Because dogs have a fascination with poop, they are more likely to pick up a parasite.
The larvae of some parasites like hookworms and whipworms can also live in the soil, and your dog might pick them up on its paws or ingest them while eating something on the ground.
Generally, the more your dog is outside—particularly in places other dogs have been—the higher risk it has of getting worms. However, not all parasitic worms live in all areas of the world. Some places may have a higher risk of heartworm, while others do not. The best way to find out about the potential dangers in your location is to speak with your vet.
Symptoms of worms
Intestinal worms and heartworms act very differently in the body.
Parasitic worms that live in the intestines will typically cause issues related to excretion, appetites and weight, such as:
- Change in appetite
- Weight loss
- Bloody stools
- Evidence of worms in stool
Heartworm will have different symptoms because it does not affect the gastrointestinal tract. Heartworm symptoms may include coughing, labored breathing and lethargy or difficulty exercising.
If your dog is showing any of these signs, it’s a good idea to make a trip to the vet. There, they can check your dog’s stool or run tests to determine what kind of worms it has. You pup may require medication to “deworm” it.
Although worms are quite common and relatively easy to treat (aside from heartworms), prevention is very important. No dog owner wants to handle a new case of worms every month, and no dog should be subjected to the discomfort worms cause.
Even though worms are quite common in outdoor environments, you don’t need to keep your pup inside 24/7 to avoid the problem. Here are some common ways to prevent worms.
- Preventative medication or preventative supplements: There are many preventative measures on the market designed to help your dog’s body resist parasites and expel them from the body, should they be ingested. These should be administered routinely to provide consistent prevention.
- Bug spray: Dog-safe pest repellents can help keep mosquitos carrying heartworm away, as well as other pests you may encounter outside like ticks.
- Keep pets away from dead animals and feces: Feces and dead animals are common sources of intestinal parasites. If your dog starts to investigate something it shouldn’t eat, call it back as soon as possible to prevent it from ingesting contaminated material.
- Bolstering the immune system: Keeping your dog’s immune system in top shape can also help reduce the risk of worms, or help to minimize the effect they have on your dog’s health if it does pick them up.
Finally, it’s a good idea to do a routine fecal check at your vet during yearly examinations, even if your dog isn’t displaying symptoms. Your vet may discover that your dog has parasites and can help get rid of them before your dog experiences more severe effects.