Dog Parasites - Everything You Need to Know About Dog Parasites

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

When they're a puppy. If you went and got a dog, the age that it would typically be is usually when you would want to start some kind of parasite prevention, whether it's flea and tick or intestinal parasites. So you can start as soon as you get them. If you get an adult dog, you should start right away as well.

In North Carolina, they have to be eight weeks old before you can adopt them. So often, the breeder's already done deworming. But again, we recommend getting that done on their first visit, whether you see something or not.

Dr. Kristin Christy
Animal Hospital of Statesville

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

It depends on what they are, of course. There's a list given here for us to go over. Heartworms are a big one. It's big in the Southeast and all over the United States. Mosquitoes spread it, so we have internal treatment for that. We have pills, injections, and topical treatments for heartworms. It is better to prevent it than treat it because it is cheaper and safer for the pet.

Hookworms and roundworms are common puppy parasites. Adults can get them as well, but when your puppy comes in, whether we find eggs in the stool or not, we assume it has hookworms and roundworms because most of them do. You might see roundworms in the stool. They're long, spaghetti-shaped, curly, and round. But hookworms can't be seen as they're microscopic. We commonly do deworming for those.

Many people see segments of tapeworms that look like little pieces of rice that break off, or, sometimes, you see them moving or wiggling around your dog's anus. Those typically come from fleas in dogs. Cats can get them from eating a rodent, but it's usually a flea situation for dogs, and there are medications for it.

You're also not going to see whipworms because they're microscopic. So just because you don't see worms in your dog's stool doesn't mean that they don't have them. Whipworms are more common in older pets or older puppies, and they can wreak all kinds of havoc if not controlled.

Coccidia and giardia are protozoan parasites. They are microscopic, so you're not going to see them. Coccidia affects a puppy more than it would an adult. We may have to treat it in a puppy, but usually not in an adult. Some people are familiar with Giardia as it occurs in people as well. Giardia can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration.

Spirochetes are not intestinal parasites. They fall under the realm of different types of bacteria that all have the curlicue spirochete look. If a dog has diarrhea, they may have a higher count of Spirochetes in their stool.

Can I see intestinal parasites if my dog has them?

Yes and no. There are fewer of those you can see than those that you can't see. So don't skip those fecal checks, have them done. We might discover some things that you had no idea your dog had.

What are external parasites and what can I do to prevent them?

External parasites are the creepy crawlies that you would be able to see a bit better. Fleas and ticks are the most common ones we treat. Lice and mites are the little guys you're not necessarily going to see. Lice, as gross as they are, are species-specific. Most of the time you won't give your lice to your dog, and your dog can't give its lice to you. But mites are a different story. Mites can, in some cases, cross species. Different pets, as well as people in the household, may all have an issue. The good news is that some of the newer oral flea and tick products we use tend to get rid of those lice and mites. They work very well for that.

Can Demodex and Sarcoptic mites be shared with humans?

They're the most common ones that people think about regarding mites. We see a lot of Demodex in puppies because they do not tend to be shared. We all have our own Demodex, as off-putting as that sounds. Different types of Demodex are naturally found on the skin, but your immune system keeps them in check. We see Demodex outbreaks in puppies, where issues occur because their immune systems are not developed completely yet. An older dog may get it because of a disease that brought its immune system down. We'll do scrapes to look for mites, but don't worry about catching Demodex from your dog. Scabies is the Sarcoptic mange. That's the one that everybody feels gross about. Every time we see one, everybody starts getting itchy. Other species can get them too. There's scabies in pigs and Guinea pigs as well. But we have lots of suitable treatments now, and we can take care of it properly.

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

I won't be as aggressive about the urgency as with the eye stuff, but you should still get them in as soon as possible. Intestinal parasites and other unchecked types of parasites could lead to serious problems or complications with a pet, especially when it comes to heartworms. If you think your dog has heartworms or it shows symptoms, that's dangerous because most of the time, dogs have heartworms, and you don't even realize it. That's not a good thing either, but if your dog shows symptoms, there is typically significant damage occurring. So get your dog in.

How will a veterinarian diagnose parasites in my dog?

It depends on what parasite we're looking for. If it's for fleas or ticks, we might use a comb to part the hair to find them. For lice and mites, we might do skin scrapes. Sometimes we do tape preps or hair plucks and look at those through the microscope.

For intestinal parasites, we'll do fecal checks. We can do the tests in-house most of the time, but occasionally we'll send it out for more specific testing. We send them out for a different type of fecal check than we have here, which will be more accurate or get some of the worm eggs that we might not be able to get with our equipment. They do more centrifugation. We can detect heartworms with blood tests. So there are different types of tests for different kinds of parasites.

Is ringworm a parasite, and if it's not, why did they name it "worm"?

Let me think about that. They probably named it ringworm because it forms in a ring shape in people and has a raised look. But it's not a worm; it is a fungus. It's not even technically a parasite, although it gives everybody creepy crawlies when you see animals with ringworm. The difference between ringworm in people and pets is that it does not always form a perfectly circular ring. As a matter of fact, most of the time, it is not even close to that. It is a fungus that causes crusties, scaly, and hair loss around the toes, eyes, and ears in random little patches. But it's not a perfect circular red ring.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Parasites - FAQs

Dr. Kristin Christy
Animal Hospital of Statesville

What are the treatments for dog parasites?

It depends on what parasite you're treating. We have a lot of good oral treatments, which can be pills or liquids; injectable therapies, depending on what we're going for; and topicals as well. It depends on whether it's fleas, ticks, intestinal parasites, or heartworms. We have prevention for certain diseases and treatment for others. It also varies in the frequency of use. It could be single or repeated use. For example, heartworm prevention is a monthly treatment.

If one of my pets has parasites, do all pets in the home need to receive treatment?

Sometimes yes, other times no. If we're talking about a litter of puppies, we'll deworm them all, but not necessarily when it comes to heartworms. We don't have to treat every pet for heartworm if we discover that one had them, but we recommend getting them on prevention. Tapeworms can be a yes or a no because a dog will not catch a tapeworm from another dog. They catch it from the flea that they ingest. So if you have pets that have fleas, they both have probably been exposed to a similar situation. They may both have tapeworms, but they didn't catch it from one another. So we use different treatments at different times.

Can I get parasites from my dog?

Many times, yes, you can. It is important to practice good hygiene, wash your hands, and clean up the stool when they're going to the bathroom. Throw it away, don't keep it out in the yard because you don't want to cross-contaminate everything. There are plenty of parasites that you won't catch from them, but it's out there. There are some diseases that you do need to be proactive about. It is not just a third-world country problem.

We need to be worried about our children because they're crawling around, picking things up, and putting stuff in their mouths. They love the dog, and they love putting their hands in their mouth. It's not an everyday thing that should keep you up at night, but be smart about it. Wash your hands, try to be clean, and clean up messes.

Are parasitic infections serious, or will they go away on their own?

Some can be serious and life-threatening. Most of them will not go away on their own. Coccidia is a protozoan parasite that your immune system keeps in check. If you have a minor case of Demodex, your immune system may keep that under control too. But most parasites have to be treated. They're not going to disappear. You usually have to do something about intestinal parasites, heartworms, fleas, and ticks. I think you'd want to get it taken care of as soon as you saw them or knew that they were around you.

Can I use natural or over-the-counter treatments for my dog?

I'd say no. If there were effective, natural, over-the-counter non-prescription treatments for this, we wouldn't have the significant number of problems with these diseases and parasites that we do. I would not recommend it. I've seen quite a few dogs come down with heartworms after using natural remedies at home.

What can I do at home to treat or prevent parasite infections?

Clean, scoop, and wash your hands. Also, keep your dog on heartworm prevention because they often have heartworm, fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasites.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.