Dogs are some of the friendliest and most welcoming animals on the planet, but oftentimes they can unwittingly welcome parasites into their lives as well. This shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us, because after all, dogs are not known for their impeccable cleanliness. At one time or another, most of us have seen a dog engaging in hygienically questionable behavior such as rummaging through garbage, eating its own poop (or vomit), or bringing unidentifiable formerly-living things to our doorstep. With all of the interesting predicaments that dogs can get themselves into, it’s easy to see how they can be a hotbed for parasites of all kinds, including ticks and fleas.
One of the most common parasites that dogs tend to attract is worms. Whether you’re adopting a pup from the shelter or purchasing a certified purebred, no dog is immune from developing some type of worm-related infection, and to be quite honest, this is the rule way more than the exception. Dogs of all ages, sizes and breeds can deal with worm-related ailments at some point in their lifetimes, and while most of these conditions are relatively harmless, there are some that can prove to be fatal if not caught early and treated properly. As with any health condition, it only makes sense to have your dog professionally examined by a qualified veterinarian to determine the exact type of worm issue your pup might be dealing with, so that your dog can receive the appropriate treatment based on the condition.
I’m speaking from experience here, because I had to deal with this very issue not too long ago. My dog Juno (an Alaskan Husky and Collie mix) became infected with a tapeworm (cestodiasis), and I found out about it pretty much by accident, through nothing more than watching her over a period of time. I started noticing that she was dragging her bottom across the floor in what seemed like a response to some kind of itch. I also started noticing – and sorry for how gross this is going to be – that she started biting at her own bottom a lot.
Now all dogs do these things to some degree, but when they become so frequent that it starts getting unusual, that’s definitely time for you to take note. As it turned out, she had a tapeworm infestation (more on this particular worm later), which the vet was able to cure by way of an oral medication. While I don’t claim to be the most knowledgeable person in the world when it comes to dogs, I did learn quite a bit through the ordeal, both from the vet and from my own research on the web and so forth. I figured it would be helpful to share what I’ve learned with other people who may be going through the same thing with their dog, so that they won’t have to search far and wide just to find information on how to treat worms in dogs. So, for your reading pleasure, here are my findings; hope it helps!
First Things First: Some General Info About Worms In Dogs
It is important to note that there are several different types of worms and infestations, each with its own peculiarities. The most common types of worms that dogs deal with – i.e., hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, and whipworms – are all considered to be intestinal parasites, because they set up shop inside of your dog’s intestines. I would be remiss at this point, however, if I didn’t mention heartworms; they’re not an intestinal worm, but rather they normally live inside of the heart, lungs or the associated blood vessels of dogs. As crazy as this sounds, these worms can be quite long – in fact, many of them grow to be at least a foot long! I don’t know about you, but that is totally disgusting to me when I really think about it. We’re talking about an organism that is basically leeching off of your pet by living inside of one of its organs!
It is not always possible to determine which type of worm your dog might be dealing with just by examining the symptoms alone, because those symptoms can be quite similar among the different types of worms. Here are some of the most common symptoms of worms in dogs:
- Diarrhea (sometimes with blood)
- Vomiting (sometimes worms are found in the dog’s vomit)
- Coughing (this can be a sign of an advanced stage of heartworms)
- Pot belly
- Low energy or malaise
- Generally unhealthy or poor appearance
- Changes in appetite
- Skin irritation or itching
- Weight loss (remember, the worm is the one eating all of your pup’s food!)
- Visible worm segments in stool or fur near anus
- Your dog may scoot or rub its bottom on the ground
- Dry hair
Since the most prevalent types of worms – i.e., roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and whipworms – make their home inside of your dog’s intestines, that’s normally the first area that your veterinarian will inspect.
When you take your dog to the vet to have him/her evaluated for worms, the vet will more than likely ask for a fresh stool sample, which for most dog owners won’t be too hard to find – in fact, most of us could just take a quick trip out to the backyard to get one! Just scoop up some of your pup’s poop, put it in a sealable plastic bag, and then bring it with you to your vet appointment. If that’s not possible, the vet will normally take a fresh stool sample during the visit. The vet will then examine the stool under a microscope, and by this method he will be able to determine exactly what type of worm you’re dealing with.
For a more serious type of worm infestation such as heartworms, the vet may even do a blood test. At the point that the vet can obtain an accurate diagnosis, you can then begin studying potential treatment options, which may include medicines that can be taken orally or by injection. The medication will typically be part of a comprehensive deworming program that your vet will prescribe, so be sure to do your best to follow this program to a “T”.
Puppies are some of the most common targets for worms, so many vets recommend that you deworm them by the time they turn 2 to 3 weeks old. Keep in mind that worms can pass from a mother dog to her baby pup by way of the milk, so when a deworming treatment is applied, it normally requires more than one round of doses to kill not only the pre-existing worms that were found in the milk, but also any other worms that may hatch within a few weeks.
Not only are puppies highly susceptible to getting worms, but basically dogs of any age can also be vulnerable to these disgusting parasites. Dogs can unwittingly ingest worm eggs by eating soil, their own stool, or even worm-infected rodents. The larvae of certain worms can not only be ingested by mouth, but also through the skin (typically on the feet).
As mentioned earlier, dogs can actually die from having worms, but this is a relatively uncommon occurrence. Puppies with excessive amounts of hookworms can become fatally ill due to not having developed a strong enough immune system yet to fight off the infestation. The real cause of the illness is basically due to anaemia, as the worm is basically stealing all of the nutrients from the pup’s food. I could go on and on, but as you can see, the basic premise of these various worm infestations is that there will be some kind of worm trying to drain your pooch of the nutrients it needs by way of siphoning food from your dog. What a disgusting freeloader!
How To Treat Worms In Dogs
There are several different types of treatments available to help you deworm your dog, with some being medical and some being holistic or natural. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I believe that you shouldn’t shun either treatment category, because there are benefits to be found on both sides of the fence.
Many hardcore holistic practitioners disparage synthetic or man-made medicines due to their chemical content, and I understand this, but at the same time I believe that there are situations where a medicine might be required due to the severity of the problem. This holds especially true in terms of certain bacterial or viral infections, where strong antibiotics might be needed to knock the infection out before it gets too far out of hand. In addition, there are other medications available that serve their purposes well while producing very minimal side effects.
While I don’t claim to have all the answers, the bottom line for me is that whatever treatment will get results while producing the least amount of negative repercussions for my dog, that’s the one I want to use, whether it’s a medication or a home remedy. And beyond that, who’s to say that you can’t achieve stellar results by combining both methods? Anyway, I wanted to share some information about the various medical and natural treatments available for each of these different types of worms, so that you can decide for yourself what might be the best route to go. So without any further delay, here they are:
1. Tapeworms Treatment
Tapeworms are perhaps the most common type of worm that infects dogs. These nasty creatures are basically flat worms that live inside of the intestines of a dog, and they are comprised of several segments that can range from a quarter-inch to a half-inch in length. The head of the tapeworm has suckers and hooks that actually attach to the interior of your dog’s small intestinal wall.
The only way to really cure a tapeworm infection is to find a way to get to the head of the worm; if you don’t do that, you can break off as many segments as you please, and that nasty joker will just keep on growing. Each of the segments in a tapeworm contains eggs (pretty clever). These segments are often eliminated along with your dog’s feces, and sometimes you can see them crawling about in your dog’s fecal matter. As if that wasn’t repulsive enough, these small segments also crawl around the area near your dog’s anus, and can get lodged in the fur near your dog’s bottom as well.
You can identify tapeworms by looking for these small segments, which resemble grains of white rice in appearance. Keep in mind that when you hear about dogs getting tapeworms from other dogs, this is not something that happens directly; in other words, tapeworms are not contagious like the common cold. Rather, tapeworms actually come by way of infected fleas, which are basically vectors for the tapeworm by ingesting their eggs. Now think about that – you have one disgusting parasite acting as a carrier for another. How nasty can you get?
As far as medical tapeworm treatments go, you may not get very far using most generic or OTC wormers; these relentless little suckers are generally too tough for that! This is not to say that there are simply no good over-the-counter treatments, but rather that they are few and far between, and for tapeworms in particular, you want to make sure that you’re using a medicine that can really get the job done.
If you’re going to go the medicinal route, you need to see your veterinarian so that he/she can prescribe a more powerful medication to knock that nasty creature out. One popular prescription medicine that is used to eliminate tapeworms is praziquantel, which basically causes the tapeworm to completely dissolve within the dog’s intestine. Praziquantel can be administered orally or by injection, and there are very few reported side effects.
Home Remedies For Tapeworms
Wheat germ oil
Try adding 1 teaspoon of wheat germ oil to your dog’s meal to stave off tapeworms.
Grind up some pumpkin seeds, and while they’re still fresh, put them in your dog’s meal to discourage those nasty tapeworms. You can try between one-fourth of a teaspoon to one whole teaspoon of ground pumpkin seeds (depending upon the size of your pup) for best results.
It’s not just vampires that can’t stand garlic; tapeworms are particularly averse to the stuff as well due to the strong volatile oils and sulfuric compounds found in this classic home remedy. You can chop up some fresh garlic to add to your dog’s raw meat meal, or you can go for powdered garlic. When you first start putting your dog on this daily garlic diet, you will more than likely still see tapeworm segments in your dog’s stool for about two to three weeks after you start the regimen. That’s okay; this is actually quite normal. After about two months, you should gradually see the tapeworms go away completely, or at least be minimized to a manageable degree.
Oregon Grape Root
Yet another natural remedy that can destroy tapeworms from the inside out. It comes in liquid form, so you can add six drops per 10 pounds of body weight to your dog’s food twice a day in order to treat tapeworms. Do this for about a week and then check for signs of progress.
2. Roundworms Treatment
Roundworm larvae are often found in the tissue of newborn puppies, so it’s always a good idea to get your dog treated for roundworms within 1 to 3 weeks of their birth. Believe it or not, the roundworm finds its way to the new pup’s tissues by way of migration from the mom’s uterus!
As mentioned earlier, roundworms can also be transferred from mother dog to pup by way of the mother’s milk. Once the roundworm larvae make their way into the dog’s intestine, they begin to grow until they reach about five inches in length. Now keep in mind that the roundworms are constantly laying eggs (up to 200,000 in just one day!), which can reinfest the dog’s intestines as well. An excessive roundworm infestation can limit a puppy’s growth, and many times infected puppies will have a pot-bellied appearance.
If roundworms are not treated in time, an extreme infestation can actually cause death by way of completely blocking and shutting down the dog’s intestinal system. But it’s not just puppies that roundworms can affect; in fact, fully grown adult dogs can be susceptible to roundworm infestations. The crazy thing about it is that these roundworms will actually encyst themselves into the body tissue of the adult dog, which basically means that they create a type of cocoon that keeps them dormant until the adult dog gets pregnant. After that, they will activate near the ending stages of the adult dog’s pregnancy so that they can infest the poor little puppies. Talk about a roundworm timebomb!
Medicinal treatments for roundworms include prescription anthelminthics (dewormers) such as Advantage Multi or Sentinel Spectrum Chewables. These medicines contain praziquantel and milbemycin oxime, both of which can interrupt the nervous system of roundworms and then also eliminate these nasty pets in their adult stage.
Natural Treatments For Roundworms Include:
You can add about two tablespoons of oat bran to your dog’s meals to provide your pup with a healthy dose of intestine-scrubbing fiber. This roughage will basically carry out those roundworms when your pup is eliminating the meal. You can also use grated raw turnips or carrots to accomplish the same end.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
This is basically a fine powder comprised of fossilized aquatic organisms known as diatoms. This powder does not affect dogs or humans at all, but for worms, it’s basically a living nightmare, because it cuts up their outer shell like a razor blade, causing fatal dehydration for the worm. Add one teaspoon of DE to each of your dog’s meal, but make sure to use food grade DE, and not the kind that is used for pools.
It’s worth mentioning here that garlic works as well for roundworms as it does for tapeworms.
3. Hookworms Treatment
Hookworms are very similar to roundworms and tapeworms in how they operate. They will attach to the interior lining of your pup’s intestinal wall, and they basically feed on the blood of your dog. Hookworms do this by way of the hooklike structure of their mouthparts (hence the name), which they use to actually pierce and anchor themselves into the intestinal wall, while at the same time piercing the blood vessel of their host in order to start feeding on your dog’s blood.
Medically referred to as ancylostoma or uncinaria, hookworms can cause extreme diarrhea as well as anemia. If your dog suffers from an advanced hookworm infestation, it can experience symptoms such as pale gums, physical weakness, black or tarry stool, vomiting, and diarrhea. Hookworms can stunt the growth of newborn puppies, and they can also cause your dog’s hair coat to become dry and coarse. Unlike tapeworms, hookworms can be hard to spot because they’re nowhere near as long; in fact, adult hookworms only grow to about a half-inch to three-fourths of an inch in length.
Medicinal treatments for hookworms include prescription medications such as Advantage Multi and Sentinel Spectrum Chewables. Notice that the treatment for hookworms is basically the same as it is for roundworms; this is because most of these prescription medicines cover a variety of intestinal parasites.
Some Highly Effective Natural Treatments For Hookworms Are:
Grapefruit Seed Extract
You can buy this in liquid form from health food stores; just add about five to 10 drops per 10 pounds of your dog’s bodyweight into your dog’s raw food every day. You can also mix some crushed grapefruit seed hulls into their food.
Black Walnut Extract
Black Walnut Extract is a classic natural remedy for addressing intestinal parasites. Try adding one drop per day into your pup’s food for a period of roughly two to three weeks.
It should be noted that other natural treatments such as diatomaceous earth (DE) and ground pumpkin seeds work great for taking care of hookworms as well.
4. Whipworms Treatment
Like the other worms listed above, whipworms are intestinal worms, and the main place they like to set up shop is in the large intestine (colon and cecum) of dogs. Whipworms can cause quite a severe irritation to the lining of your pup’s intestine, producing symptoms such as weight loss, watery or bloody diarrhea, and hindered physical movement. Of all the different intestinal worms that dogs deal with, whipworms are considered to be one of the most pathogenic. These little jokers are tough to kill, because their eggs are highly resistant to heat and drying, and can remain viable for up to five years!
As far as medical treatments for whipworms go, two of the most common prescription medications are Panacur and Sentinel. A popular over-the-counter choice is Safe-Guard Granules, which contains fenbendazole, an active deworming ingredient. Safe-Guard actually disrupts the metabolic process of the whipworm, which eventually kills it. This is one of the few over-the-counter medicines I can get behind, because the fenbendazole has been shown to be pretty effective in neutralizing these worms.
For natural remedies to treat whipworms, I will try to avoid sounding redundant, but as I mentioned earlier, most of these remedies work for the various types of intestinal worms in pretty much the same manner. However, one natural remedy that I haven’t covered yet is cloves.
Feeding your dog about one-fourth of a cup of ground cloves (by mixing it into their meal, of course) is a great way to attack those parasites internally. While I’m at it, I should also mention goldenseal, which is an herbal remedy that comes in liquid form. Try starting with one to three drops of goldenseal per day mixed into your pup’s food.
5. Heartworms Treatment
Now heartworms are an entirely different animal, because as the name implies, they affect the heart (and lungs) more than the intestines of your dog. Heartworms are a very serious issue for dogs, because they can cause major problems such as heart failure, lung disease and damage to other internal organs. These nasty foot-long worms live inside of dogs and mature into adults, mating and producing offspring while they’re in there.
Believe it or not, some dogs have been found to have literally hundreds of heartworms inside their body! Mosquitoes are major carriers of heartworms, because they can bite infected animals whose blood contains microscopic early-stage heartworms known as “microfilaria”. The mosquito then transfers this infected blood to another dog by way of its bite wound. Symptoms of heartworms can include persistent coughing, decreased appetite, swollen belly, weight loss, and reluctance to exercise. Your dog might also tire out easily after only mild or moderate physical activity.
If your pup is indeed diagnosed with heartworms, your veterinarian will have to take X-rays and do blood work, plus there may be other tests involved in order to find out the severity of the infection. For this type of condition, veterinarians often prescribe a heartworm-specific medication along with antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medicines as well. This heartworm medicine is actually made of a highly toxic chemical called melarsomine, which is very similar to arsenic (rat poison), and it is typically only administered by a trained veterinarian. With this treatment, your dog will normally receive three shots over a two-month period.
As far as natural remedies for heartworms is concerned, there has been quite a debate regarding the effectiveness of holistic treatments when it comes to this particular type of worm, because a heartworm infestation produces much more severe physical effects in dogs than regular intestinal worms do. According to the American Heartworm Association, only heartworm treatments that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration should be used, while holistic enthusiasts insist that you can cure heartworms through herbal products such as Heartworm Free and Petalive Parasite Dr., both of which contain natural ingredients (e.g., garlic, grapefruit seed, licorice, apricot pits, black seed, etc.) that act as repellents to mosquitoes.
This means that your pup will be less likely to be bit by an infected mosquito. This is, however, more of a preventative method than something you can use when your dog has an advanced-stage heartworm infection. If the situation is fairly severe, the advice recommended by the American Heartworm Association is that you follow the treatment plan outlined by your dog’s veterinarian, which will include a series of pain medication, hospitalizations, injections, and lab work in order to thoroughly and safely treat your pet.
As mentioned earlier, your vet will probably administer melarsomine, which is the only FDA-approved heartworm treatment drug available right now. While there are some risks associated with using melarsomine, it definitely kills the heartworms, with most worms dying between one to three months after the treatments have started. With a condition as potentially severe as heartworms, there are no quick one-shot solutions that will take care of everything; you have to be willing to follow the comprehensive treatment protocol laid out by your dog’s veterinarian in order to achieve the most ideal results for your pup.
I know I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating: Heartworms are a very serious condition, and the key to putting the odds in your dog’s favor is to look for signs or symptoms early, and address them as soon as you find them. If you don’t, your dog could needlessly suffer, and the treatment required to get your pup parasite-free will be more severe and more costly the longer you wait.
How To Treat A Pregnant Dog With Worms
Keep in mind that a pregnant dog that is infected with worms will give birth to pups who have microscopic worms in their body tissues. When it comes to dealing with a pregnant pup, going the preventative route is definitely the best way. This means making sure that you’re living in a flea-free environment, and cleaning all bedding, cages, and other favorite dog hangout spots to ensure that no infected fleas can set up shop. If you have any control over when the female dog will breed, try to make sure to get her thoroughly treated with a wormer (and get a stool check) before the breeding takes place.
One medicine that is frequently recommended for deworming pregnant dogs is Milbemax, which interrupts the nerve transmissions in worms, causing muscle spasms that allow enzymes to consume and ultimately disintegrate the worm. Not a pretty picture, but it gets the job done.
Okay, I have given you plenty of information to think about for now regarding how to treat worms in dogs. At this point, you will need to decide what’s best for your pup among the treatment options that are available. Be sure to talk everything over with your vet, and when it’s time to move, don’t delay. Your dog’s good health depends on it!