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Medically Reviewed by Veterinarian Angela Dwyer, DVM on April 15, 2018
Table of Contents
So, there I was, 10 years old, hanging out with my best buddy Jake, and I asked Ma, “How old is Jake in human years?”
“I dunno,” she said, “Ask your Gran.”
Ma always used to hand me off to Gran when I had questions that needed answering, so off I went, next door to Gran’s house, and asked her the same question.
“Well,” she said, “As near as I can figure, Jake would be about the same age as you are – about 10.”Wow! Jake and I were just about the same age! No wonder we got along so well.
“Gran,” I asked, “How long is Jake going to live?”
“Most of the time,” she answered, “Dogs live to be about the age you are now.” So I’d be 16 when Jake died. Being only 10, 16 seemed like a long way off, so I didn’t sweat it a whole lot.
For sure I was a little question box. My next question, though, sent my ma into what back then we called a “hissy fit.”“Ma,” I asked, “Have you been feeding rice to Jake? Because it looks like there’s rice in his poo.”
She didn’t tell me to go next door and ask Gran. She threw up her apron and said “Sweet lord above, don’t let that dog in the house!”Well, Jake had always been welcome in the house, and I couldn’t quite get the connection between eating rice and Jake’s sudden banishment from home and hearth.
Turned out, of course, that Jake had worms, and had to be treated using a dewormer for dogs.
I’ve been really fortunate in later years – I’ve hardly ever needed a dewormer for my dogs. That’s probably because I keep them out of garbage, and I know what they’re up to when they’re out in the yard.
So do you need a dewormer for your dogs? Maybe, but maybe not. It depends on their lifestyle, really. Some dogs may need to be dewormed a few times in any given year, while others could conceivably go for years without needing to be dewormed. If they’re kept out of undesirable things, as are Janice and Leroy, your dogs may require deworming only rarely. On the other hand, if your dogs are trash hounds or diggers, there’s a very good chance that you will need a dewormer for your dogs more frequeqently.
How Can You Tell if Your Dog Has Worms?
It’s a given – nobody wants to think that their dogs are wormy. The mere thought of having slimy, wriggling parasites in your dog’s digestive canal is repulsive. Then there’s the worry that those worms could be transmitted to humans.
So how can you tell if your dog has worms? Well, your veterinarian can do a test, or you could use an at-home kit with which you take a sample of your dog’s feces and send it off to a lab. The lab will test the feces and get back to you with the results.
In the absence of a test, you can look for symptoms. Keep in mind, though, that some worm infestations may show no symptoms at all, and if that’s the case then the only way to know for sure is to have your veterinarian examine your dog. Some worms may be visible to the naked eye, whereas others might be totally invisible.
When worms are visible, they’re usually the most dangerous kind, like tapeworms. This is the type of worm that Jake had, with visible segments in the feces.
Another sign of worms can be a bloated belly – this is most common in puppies that pick up worms from the mother
An increase in appetite, weight loss and weakness can also be signs that your dog is wormy, because worms steal the nutrients that your dog needs in order to remain healthy.
You should also watch out for diarrhea, especially if it contains blood. This can be a sign of other, more serious conditions, but it often simply means worms. Don’t second-guess, though – if there’s blood in the stool, get in touch with your vet immediately.
With most worm infestations, your vet can provide you with an all-purpose dewormer for dogs that will destroy most varieties of worms. The medication is priced on a per-pound basis and can be expensive – so expensive that people sometimes decide to go with a commercially available wormer. The only problem with these wormers is that they have to be used over and over, because although they will kill the worms, they will have no effect on the eggs. It can end up being a false economy, because you have to use this dewormer for dogs over and over.
You should also take note that when you see a product represented as an “all wormer,” it usually means just the most common worms like roundworms and tapeworms, and might be totally ineffective against tapeworms, heartworms and lungworms. And again, they only kill the existing worms – the eggs are still going to be there, just waiting to hatch. The only way to really be sure that your dog is worm-free is to get a dewormerfor dogs from your veterinarian that will also kill the eggs.
The answer to this question is YES. At any age, your dog is at risk for worms. Puppies are most at risk of roundworms, which they get from the mother and which can be passed in the milk.If your dog likes to dig in the dirt, he can come into contact with the eggs of hookworms and roundworms. If he’s a hunter who likes to chase down wild animals, he can be vulnerable to tapeworms. And it’s a rare dog who can be kept out of garbage and rotting substances all the time, so it’s a rare dog who is never at risk for worms.
You need a good dewormer any time that your dog comes into contact with worms. Although some worms are not visible to the naked eye (see my post, Hookworm Infection in Dogs for an in-depth discussion of one such nasty parasite), usually if your dog is wormy, you’ll get a visual heads-up. With roundworms, you’ll see something in your dog’s poo that looks like a bean sprout or a noodle. Tapeworms are long and flattish, and look like rice grains. In addition to finding them in the feces, you might also see them around your dog’s muzzle, adhering to the fur.
Whipworms live in your dog’s large intestine, and you probably will never see them. A veterinary test is necessary to determine their presence. It’s the same with lungworms – you will probably never see them, but they can kill your dog. If anyone tells you that there is a commercially available treatment for lungworms, they are lying – if you suspect lungworms, and you want your dog to live, get him to a veterinarian.
Risk for Humans?
Some dog worms can be transmitted to humans. Roundworms are the most problematic. Their eggs can be found anywhere that your dog has defecated, and if ingested by humans, can affect the eyes, the muscles, and even damage the central nervous system. Children and adults with compromised immune systems are most likely to be affected.
You can also pick up hookworms if you walk barefoot where infected dogs have been. Hookworms can cause intestinal diseases and skin disorders in humans.
Humans are also vulnerable to tapeworms, which can cause cysts to develop in the host’s organs. If the cysts rupture, the host can become very ill, or even die.
Fortunately, canine whipworms, heartworms and lungworms do not affect humans. They can be very harmful to dogs, though, and if an infestation is suspected, you need to get your dog to the vet ASAP.
What About the Signs?
As I suggested above, with some types of worms, your dog might show no signs whatsoever of infestation. Dogs can hold a LOT of worms without appearing to be ill, but when the infestation really takes hold, serious issues can develop. As an example, lungworms could cause your dog’s blood to resist clotting, and if injured, he could bleed to death.
It can also be hard to determine if your dog has worms. Most people think that if a dog is scooting his bottom across the floor, it means that he has worms. However, it could also mean that he just likes scooting. Furthermore, not all dogs that have worms are going to scoot. More reliable signs of worminess in dogs are impacted anal sacs, itchy skin and food allergies. There can also be more dramatic signs of worm infestation, including significant weight loss, a ravenous appetite, and a dry, unhealthy-looking coat.
If you suspect a worm infestation, of course the best thing you can do is get in touch with your veterinarian.
Is it Serious?
It could be. Sometimes, worms only cause minor upsets in a dog’s health. Other times, a dog may feel extremely unwell, but will usually be very responsive to treatment. In rare cases, worm infestations can be life-threatening. This is most common in puppies that are so young their immune system isn’t fully developed.
What About My Kids?
As previously mentioned, some dog worms can be transmitted to humans, but this shouldn’t be cause for panic. Most of the time your child will be able to dig in the dirt with his dog, and never have to worry about worms being transmitted. However, there is one common type of dog worm, toxocaracanis, that is readily transmittable to humans. If a child ingests toxocaracanis eggs, the larvae can invade the child’s body, and end up in the eye or the brain, with serious consequences that could include blindness and/or seizures. This doesn’t mean that you should curtail the activities that your dog and your child enjoy doing together – it simply means that, if you have children, regular use of a dewormer for dogs is important.
In addition to making sure that your dog is regularly wormed, you also want to reduce the likelihood of your child ingesting worm eggs. Make sure to remove dog feces from any part of your yard that is frequented by your child, and keep in mind that worm eggs can live for years.
One thing that you don’t have to worry all that much about, though, is fresh dog feces. If your dog lays a load in the yard, and your kid gets into it, it’s not a big deal – worm eggs need time to incubate. The real risk is old dog feces not the fresh stuff. So if you’re vigilant about not letting poo lay around the yard for days, the chances of your kids being exposed to worms and their eggs will be greatly reduced.
How Often Should I Worm?
Generally speaking, you should worm a puppy more often than you do an adult dog. Because they’re young, their immune system isn’t fully developed, and a single dose that might work on an adult might be less effective with a puppy. Usually, adult dogs only need to be wormed every three months. A puppy might need to be wormed more often, perhaps even monthly, depending on what your veterinarian advises. You should consider this when buying dewormer for your dogs.
With an older dog, the risk of getting worms actually has to do with circumstances. As I’ve already mentioned, if your dog is always in garbage, rooting in the garden and consuming snails and slugs, or wandering here and there and picking up God knows what, he’s probably going to need frequent worming. If he’s mostly an indoor couch potato, he will likely need to be wormed less often.
Well, you get what you pay for. You can buy dewormer for your dogs at retail outlets, and they might work just fine on one type of worm, but less effectively on another. Keep in mind, too, that certain types of worms are more prevalent in certain parts of the country, and a dewormer for dogs that works well in, say, Maine, might not work so well in Arizona.
Remember, too, that no two dogs are the same. An over-the-counter dewormer for dogs that might work for your very active Yorkshire Terrier, for instance, might not do much for your lazy English Mastiff.
You can buy dewormer for dogs from your veterinarian, your pet supply store, and even from WalMart. Remember, though, that there can be huge differences in the effectiveness. An over-the-counter remedy might work very well for some types of worm infestations, but might be utterly useless for other infestations. Your veterinarian is always the best source of information when it comes to the type of dewormer for your dogs that is most effective.
As long as there have been dogs, there have been worms. There’s no getting away from them, and no getting away from the fact that worms are going to cause health problems for dogs. So it’s important that you know how to keep your dogs worm-free. There are numerous preparations available that can control some worm infestations for varying periods of time. However, in order to be sure that the worms are destroyed, and their eggs destroyed as well, the best dewormer for dogs is generally the one that you will get from your veterinarian.