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Dog Parasites - Prevention and Treatment of Dog Parasites

How old does my dog need to be to start parasite prevention?

It depends on which parasite we're working on, but pretty much any age dog. Many times, by the time you get a puppy, there are certain dewormers we're doing for hookworms or roundworms, fleas, and ticks. You don't want puppies to get anemic from parasites, so you want to treat them early and then heartworms; many products are labeled for eight weeks. Typically, it's any age when you get them.


Dr. Kristin Christy
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What are internal and intestinal parasites, and how do I get rid of them in my dog?

There are a couple of them listed here, and we can kind of go through those. Heartworms are an internal parasite - not necessarily an intestinal parasite - spread by mosquitoes. That can certainly be a deadly situation; it's much easier to prevent than to treat. The question should be, how should I prevent them versus how should I treat them? You can use most heartworm preventatives at eight weeks and up. There are preventions that we can start when they're young—if they're old enough, of course, and you should test them beforehand. Hookworms are a prevalent puppy parasite. Any dog can get it, but it is one of the ones that we are deworming early on. It can cause anemia and bleeding in the gut. It's a little parasite worm that nibbles on the inside of the intestines. We have dewormers for that. Roundworms are similar, and they are also a widespread puppy parasite as well. Some people think of the big old round, wormy bellies on the puppies. That's usually roundworms doing that.

We'll get to seeing worms later, but there are many worms you cannot see, but sometimes you can see roundworms. There are many dewormers for that, and your routine heartworm preventatives often deworm for those as well. We've got tapeworms listed here. That's also an intestinal parasite and is usually from ingestion of an infected flea or an infected rodent. That one is not as common in puppies, but any age dog can get those. We've got special prescription pills or, in some cases, topicals for that; some heartworm preventions can get that as well. Whipworms are also an intestinal parasite. They can be in puppies, although they usually affect older puppies or adult dogs based on the lifestyle. That one's a little harder to control because it can stay in the environment and be difficult to get rid of.

Again, we've got dewormers for that. Some heartworm preventatives can go against whipworms, and some don't. It depends on your scenario and how big of an issue it is. We've got coccidia down here. That's a protozoan parasite, so not your worm, but a one-celled organism. That is usually more of a puppy problem. It can cause diarrhea in puppies. The majority of the time, when an adult dog has coccidia, it doesn't cause them issues, or we don't even need to treat it. There are treatments that we do for puppies. We've also got giardia listed here. That's one that some people may be familiar with because people can get that as well.

Especially if you hike and drink the water like you're not supposed to. You want to do your filtration everything because tiny giardia parasites can live there, which can cause significant dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea in dogs. Sometimes it's a significant parasite. Sometimes it's not. Some carriers—dogs that can carry it, don't spread it, and don't get sick. In some cases, we treat it, and in other cases, we might not, depending on the scenario.

Spirochetes are not a parasite, per se. It's more of a descriptor, usually of a type of bacteria or the shape of a kind of bacteria. Many different bacterias can be in the spirochete family, but sometimes you can have more spirochete bacteria in a stool sample, like a dog with diarrhea. Usually, it's more of a secondary outcome versus a primary cause of the issues. Often, treating diarrhea and the underlying parasite or whatever, we'll get that back and check.

Can I see intestinal parasites if my dog has them?

Some you can, and some you cannot. More than you'd like to think, you're not going to be able to see. That is why prevention is so important. You think that you do not see anything in the dog's stool, so it's no big deal. Well, there are many things you're not going to see. You're not going to see heartworms, hookworms, whipworms, coccidia, giardia, or spirochetes. The majority of the things we just listed, you're not going to see. There are special tests we need to run, fecal checks, and we look under the microscope. But it is vital with the worms that you do see that you tell us. What do they look like? Are they long, or are they short? Are they white? Are they curly? Are they straight? Are they little rice pieces? Because sometimes our stool sample's not going to catch some of those, but your description can help us out for what we need to treat.

What are external parasites as opposed to internal parasites, and what can we do to prevent them?

That's where we do get into things like fleas and ticks. Those are the most common external parasites and the ones you can see the easiest. These are the creepy crawlers that you don't want on your pets or yourself. We have many excellent products these days that have come a long way from the unsafe ones—like some of the free collars and sprays that are unsafe. Even the topicals that are pretty safe don't necessarily work as well as they used to.

There are some fabulous oral flea and tick controls now, and they're labeled for fleas and ticks. They do well for that and some of our other external parasites like lice and mites. Mites are tiny parasites that a dog can have, and we can get them from them or spread them through other species. Usually, lice tend to be species-specific. It's kind of gross, and you want to treat it and get rid of them, but you're not going to get your dog's lice, although your other dog could. We've got some outstanding products for those.

How soon should I bring my dog in to see you or the veterinarian if I suspect they may have parasites?

If you suspect they have parasites, I'd say ASAP. I mean, there are many issues that parasites can cause, from anemias to diarrhea and weight loss, unthriftiness, hair loss, and skin infections. Of course, if you suspect there's a parasite, address it right away. Don't let it turn into something else.

How will a veterinarian diagnose parasites in my dog?

Depending on the parasite or what we're looking for, there are different things we can do. Sometimes it's a visual inspection. We use our combs, and we see the fleas or the evidence of the fleas. Sometimes you find a tick on your pet. Sometimes you tell us that you see a worm in the stool, but otherwise, it's fecal checks. For skin things, sometimes you do a tape prep or a scrape prep, or a blood test. You may find some parasites using a urine or a respiratory test or something, but usually, it's going to be a visual exam, poop, and maybe blood. We have a medium that we put it in, it floats up to the top, and we have to look at it under a microscope. You can't float it in water and do it yourself. The lab we send the samples to has different types, centrifugation or other special tests where they can find the antigen or the bits of pieces of the worm versus just the eggs. Sometimes when we send it out to the lab, we're getting different information that we can't get from here.

Is ringworm a parasite?

Though it says worm and then ringworm, it's not a worm. It's a fungus. Ringworm is contagious and can be an issue, and it's something we want to address and rule out from other parasites. It's not a true parasite.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of parasites so important?

There can be deadly or more dangerous side effects of letting something go. You might chalk up a bit of fleas on a puppy to nothing serious. Well, the fleas are sucking blood. If it's sucking enough blood, we've seen puppies that are anemic and need blood transfusions just from fleas or from hookworms; that can cause enough bleeding that they can need blood transfusions from that. It can be deadly depending on the age and the parasite and the parasite load. It's always easier to stop something, getting it sooner versus waiting. Then, of course, the whole heartworm thing, that's an entire other video, but heartworms can be deadly as well, and it's far easier and cheaper to prevent than to try to play catch-up later with the damage.

Is there a way to prevent parasites in your yard?

There is, to some degree. If you are having a company, spray or do treatments for fleas and ticks and that sort of thing—mosquitoes and stuff. When you're talking about parasites, like certain worm eggs, some of those are so resilient unless you were burning your yard and digging up like a foot of dirt and getting rid of it. Some of that stuff, you can't just get rid of that. It is crucial to pick up the poop, wash your hands, and get things out of the way, so it doesn't contaminate. And then, of course, have your dog on proper prevention for it.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

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