Puppies and Internal Parasites

We’ve been taught that parasites are nasty, ugly, and even their mothers don’t love them.

Parasites, however, are commonly found in all living beings; even parasites can have their own parasites. This doesn’t mean that those common internal parasites are not a problem, though, many of them certainly can be and some can even be life threatening.

When you bring home a new puppy and quickly fall in love with him, you don’t want this small new family member to be suffering from parasites of any kind. Your veterinarian will agree with that sentiment and at your puppy’s first visit, the vet will check for parasites and recommend treatment for any that are discovered. Let’s take a look at some of the parasites that puppies are prone to, including their symptoms, so you and your veterinarian can work together to keep your puppy healthy.

Internal Worms

Roundworms are found worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that roundworms are most commonly found in areas that are warm and moist, especially tropical and subtropical climates, but they can be found all around the world.

Puppies are most often infected by their mother as the worms can be transmitted to the puppies before birth or through the milk. Roundworms live in the intestinal tract and can cause diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, and a poor, dull-looking coat. Puppies infected with round worms often have a large round belly, often called a ‘worm belly.’ Worms may be passed in the stools, making an infestation easy to diagnose, but the eggs can also be found in the stools. When you take your puppy in to the veterinarian, take a small bit of the puppy’s stool in for examination. Treatment will consist of several rounds, usually two weeks apart, for three to four weeks. To prevent a re-infestation, pick up feces as soon as possible, wash the puppy’s bedding often, and keep the yard and living area clean.

Hookworms are also commonly found in puppies, especially those living in warm, humid climates such as the southeastern United States. The CDC shows that hookworms, like roundworms, are found worldwide.

The larvae of hookworms live in the soil after having been passed out of an infested animal via the feces. The puppy can then pick up these larvae when playing in the dirt, digging a hole, licking dirt off his paws, or other normal puppy actions. In addition, the larvae can penetrate the skin and move through the puppy’s body. Once in the body, no matter how the larvae got there, it moves to the digestive tract where it attaches to the lining of the intestinal wall. It feeds on the puppy’s blood, causing blood loss and bloody diarrhea. Any incidences of diarrhea or bloody diarrhea should be reported to your veterinarian immediately and when you bring your puppy in for an exam, bring a small piece of stool to aid in the diagnosis. Just as for roundworms, there will be several treatments, usually two weeks apart, for several weeks. Because of the high incidences of hookworm infestations, many heartworm preventive medications also include a medication to prevent hookworm re-infestations.

There are a variety of other internal worms that can potentially harm your puppy, including whipworms and heartworms, but these aren’t as commonly found in young puppies. Ask your veterinarians what worms are found in your area and what you need to do to prevent them.

Microscopic Parasites

Giardia is a microscopic parasite that infects a wide variety of animals, from domestic animals, to livestock, birds, fish, and even humans. The World Health Organization (WHO) shows that it is more often found in warmer climates or during warm weather, and although found in soil, it is most often found in water that has been contaminated by infected feces. Many a human camper who has bent down to drink out of a crystal clear stream needs to visit his doctor when he (or she) gets back home. It’s transmitted that easily.

The primary symptom of giardia is diarrhea. Your puppy may also lack energy, lose his appetite, and if it continues, he’ll lose weight. He can also suffer from dehydration due to the diarrhea. When you take your puppy in to see your veterinarian, let him know if you’ve been camping, hiking, around livestock, or if there is standing water that both wildlife and your puppy might have visited. Let the vet know, too, if your puppy has been playing in the mud recently. After testing for giardia, your vet will prescribe a course of treatment; make sure to follow through and give the entire course even if your puppy begins feeling better soon. Giardia is a tough organism and the full course of treatment (usually a week to ten days) is necessary.

Coccidia is a protozoan parasite that infects a variety of animals, including wild birds, domesticated birds (It can be a problem in chickens.) as well as livestock, dogs, cats, and humans. Since this isn’t a reportable disease for the CDC, it’s distribution world wide isn’t tracked as well as other parasites. However, since it can be a significant problem in livestock and game birds, it is known to be wide spread.

Puppies are most likely to become infected by consuming something infected with feces containing the protozoa. Many times it can be dirt but other times it can be a puzzle. A number of years ago, when one of my dogs was diagnosed, I had to take down several bird feeders. The dog was eating spilled seed that fell to the ground; seed which was contaminated by the feces from the wild birds feeding at the feeders. Watery, mucus, and bloody diarrhea is the primary symptom. A severe infection, left untreated, will kill a puppy. A fecal test will confirm the diagnosis and treatment is usually effective.

Watch Your Puppy

These four parasites (roundworms, hookworms, giardia and coocidia) are the four most commonly found parasitical threats to puppies. However, depending on where you and your puppy live, your weather, exposure to livestock, wild animals, and many other factors, the risks will vary. Also, other parasites can also be a threat. Fleas, ticks, mange mites, and other parasites are looking for a host.

This doesn’t mean your puppy should live inside all his life and never be exposed to any potential threat. No, he needs to live a good life. However, you can lessen threats by keeping his yard clean and removing feces as often as possible. Clean up after other animals, too. Keep his water bowl refilled with clean water and wash his water bowl often. When away from home, don’t let him drink from standing puddles and turn him away from other animals’ droppings.

Then, too, pay attention to your puppy. Know his regular habits, what his stools look like, how much he eats or drinks, and don’t hesitate to talk to his veterinarian if there are any unsettling changes. I’ve always considered my pets’ veterinarian to be my partner in my dogs and cats’ ongoing good health because there are a lot of scary things out there that can be a potential problem. Parasites are certainly one of those but with good care the risks can certainly be reduced.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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