What are the Symptoms of Parasites in Dogs?
A few years ago, the Millbrook Hunt Club in upstate New York realized that many of its Foxhounds were becoming seriously ill. The dogs, known for their athletic prowess and seemingly limitless energy, appeared to be wasting away. Extensive testing revealed that a rare parasite, leishmaniasis, was to blame. Public health officials now believe this particular parasite is under control, but other potentially deadly parasites pose continued health threats to both you and your dog. Internal parasites are of particular concern since they’re often not detectable by owners.
The danger lies in the fact that internal parasites live off their host, which means that they can suck up blood, nutrients, water, and other essentials from you or your dog.
If enough parasites are present, which is likely since a single female roundworm can produce up to 100,000 eggs a day, the host can weaken and even die if left untreated.
Your veterinarian can determine whether your dog has a parasite through fecal screening or a blood test. Here is a parasite primer to guide you through basic identification and prevention measures for common parasites for added good measure.
Tapeworms in Dogs
Tapeworms are one of the most common parasites in dogs. They are transmitted by fleas and break off into 1/4-inch sections that can be seen around a dog’s hindquarters or in its poop. Tapeworms live in a dog’s digestive system and usually do not cause any significant health problems.
Symptoms: Sometimes, an infected dog will scoot his butt along the floor in an attempt to relieve the irritation.
Prevention: Keeping fleas under control will keep tapeworms from infecting your dog.
The potential impact on humans: Tapeworms in undercooked pork and beef are among the most common culprits for the infestation in humans, so dog tapeworms pose little risk.
Roundworms in Dogs
This prevalent worm looks like curled spaghetti strands in your dog’s stool (yes, you should inspect it occasionally). Roundworms absorb nutrients in a dog’s intestines, interfering with digestion. Dogs can get roundworms from eating an infected rodent or through contact with contaminated feces. Puppies can get roundworms in utero or while nursing.
Symptoms: Puppies with roundworms may have diarrhea and distended bellies, but sometimes no visual signs are apparent.
Prevention: Keep your dog away from the feces of other animals. Yearly deworming should take care of roundworms.
The potential impact on humans: Poor sanitation can lead to Roundworms spreading – with deadly results if roundworms migrate to major organs.
Giardia in Dogs
These are protozoan parasites that can be ingested through contaminated water, soil, and feces. It can cause digestive disorders in dogs. These may lead to either acute or intermittent diarrhea, sometimes resulting in weight loss.
Symptoms: A dog may have no symptoms or have diarrhea and gas.
Prevention: Promptly clean up feces and prevent your dog from drinking stream or pond water.
The potential impact on humans: People can suffer from giardia, too, with problems similar to those of affected dogs.
Heartworms in Dogs
Heartworm larvae can live in mosquitoes, so when a mosquito carrying these larvae bites a dog, larvae can enter the canine’s blood and develop into parasitic heartworms. These worms then migrate to the heart and lungs, and nearby blood vessels. In severe cases, it can lead to congestive heart failure in dogs. Heartworm infection is detected through a blood sample.
Symptoms: Dogs with heartworms can have no symptoms, but may also have a cough, decreased appetite, difficulty breathing, and avoid exertion.
Prevention: Talk to your veterinarian about having your dog tested for heartworms with a follow-up on preventive medication, if necessary.
The potential impact on humans: Is minimal since it is rare for people to become infected with heartworms.
Hookworms in Dogs
These reside in the small intestine of dogs and feed on the animal’s blood. If left untreated, hookworms can cause canine death. A dog contracts hookworms by ingesting larvae through contaminated water or soil or eating another infected animal. Larvae can also penetrate the skin. Puppies may be born with hookworm infection.
Symptoms: An infected dog may be weak, anemic, and have diarrhea and vomiting.
Prevention: Vigilant cleanups and annual deworming usually give hookworms the hook.
The potential impact on humans: Hookworms can infect humans through the skin, causing itchy lesions and even lung disease.
Coccidia in Dogs
Coccidia is a protozoan parasite that dogs can pick up by eating infected rodents or other infested critters. Coccidia can live and multiply in a dog’s intestines. Dehydration and other problems related to coccidia can lead to death in severe cases.
Symptoms: A dog may experience mild to severe diarrhea, a painful abdomen, and vomiting.
Prevention: Cleaning up immediately after your dog can prevent the spread of contamination.
The potential impact on humans: Zero, because the coccidia species found in dogs and cats do not infect humans.
Preventing Parasites in Dogs
As indicated, both you and your dog could be targeted by one or more parasites in your lifetimes. But fear not. A one-two-three punch could knock this dog and human health problem out cold.
Keeping It Clean
Staying clean is the first line of attack for preventing most internal parasite infestations. Be sure to clean up after your dog as soon as you can. Then, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after such cleanups to prevent parasite spreads to other dogs, animals, and humans. Children are at particular risk since they tend to not be as vigilant with the washing (little fingers tend to wind up in little mouths). As a result, keep kids away from any pets that may be infected. Teach them the link between illness and hand-dirtiness. Maybe remind them of their last tummy ache, pointing out that something similar could happen if they don’t wash up.
Pay Attention to Number Two
Step two might be easy to remember because it’s also “number two.” According to Dr. Lisa Hsuan, DVM, at the Animal Health Care Centre in Los Angeles, California, diarrhea provides a critical clue. “This is the first sign of an internal parasite,” she says. Diarrhea, of course, has many causes, but internal parasites are one of them. If your dog has this problem, talk over the possibilities with your veterinarian.
Deworm Your Dog Regularly
Over-the-counter dog wormers are available, but your best bet is to consult with your veterinarian. That’s because each country and region has its unique parasite concerns due to weather patterns, local species, environmental considerations, and other factors. Your dog’s doctor should know what is right for your pet. Additionally, all dewormers contain potentially harmful chemicals, so they should be used with care. Less toxic preparations are now available, such as Prazi, which treats parasites in humans and pets.
Parasite Protection for Dogs
These parasites may be intense, but the treatment to get them out of your dog’s body — and your own — is more robust. Give your dog the best chance for a long and healthy life by taking him to your veterinarian regularly to be checked for both internal and external parasites.
If you and your pet frequent dog parks, deworming should perhaps be higher on your “to-do” list. “Dog parks are a breeding ground for parasites,” says Dr. Hsuan. “This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your dog to dog parks, but that you should be aware of parasites and get your dog checked for them more frequently.”
Article written by Author: Elizabeth Parker