Worms are everywhere! Sure there is your garden variety earthworms. These are nothing to worry about. The concern for your dog’s health are roundworms (Toxocara sp). These worms are parasites that live in the intestines of many carnivores (dogs, cats, wild animals). The worms shed their eggs through the animal’s feces and these eggs can survive in the grass or soil where the animal defecates. Another animal comes along and chews on the grass or noses into the soil and they can become infected with roundworm eggs which grow into adult worms in their intestines and the cycle continues.
There are often no symptoms when infected with roundworms. Some dogs will have diarrhea or can be quite thin but often they seem perfectly normal. However, being infected by a parasite can deplete the body of important nutrients and create inflammation in the intestines.
Another reason to worry about your dog being infected by worms is that roundworms can be transmitted to humans! Yes, you read that right -you can become infected by the parasites living in your dog. Young children and people with compromised immune systems are more likely to become infected. General hygiene practices (hand washing, cleaning up after your dog) can usually prevent this risk.
A fecal test from your dog can detect these worms if they are in high numbers but sometimes even this can be negative. A simpler and more cost effective way to prevent worms living in your dog’s intestines is to give a “deworming” pill. There are many forms but the most common are flavoured chews and dogs usually enjoy taking them like a treat. Every time you give a deworming pill you get rid of any adult worms that are living in the intestines. If there is a large number, you may see them pass in the stool (they look like a pile of spaghetti). Currently, we recommend monthly deworming for all dogs in the summer months. If we have milder winters or if you have very young children, we may recommend deworming monthly all year round.
There are several other types of parasitic worms as well (hookworms, whipworms). This is where the fecal test can be useful. It can identify other less common worms that your dog may be infected with. The deworming medication used to treat for roundworms will also treat some other types of parasitic worms but sometimes there are other types of medication that may be needed. If your dog hunts small rodents, then it is possible that they can become infected with tapeworms. These require a different type of deworming medication then used for roundworms. This is where a discussion with your veterinarian about your dog’s lifestyle can help tailor your deworming medications to suit your dog’s needs.
Every dog and their owners can benefit from some type of deworming protocol.
Written by Dr. Jessica Wilson DVM