How To Treat Your Dog's Parasites
So long, worms! 👋
Finding out your dog has a parasite can feel pretty scary, but you don’t have to panic. Parasitic infections can often be cleared up with the proper treatment.
But not all parasites are treated the same way. Some only involve a simple dewormer, while others require painful injections, rounds of antibiotics and expensive hospital stays.
The Dodo spoke with Dr. Linda Simon, a veterinary surgeon and veterinary consultant for Five Barks, to find out how to treat heartworm, hookworm and tapeworm in dogs.
Types of worms in dogs
There are so many different types of worms your dog could get. Some common ones include:
These parasites are all treatable, although some are easier to get rid of than others.
Heartworm in dogs
“Heartworm is a largely preventable disease that dogs can get at any age,” Dr. Simon told The Dodo. “The parasite is known as Dirofilaria immitis, and it survives in the blood.”
Specifically, heartworms live in the pulmonary artery (aka the one that brings blood from the heart to the lungs).
Preventing heartworms with routine medication is ideal since a heartworm infection is so dangerous, can be fatal and has symptoms that might not even show up until the disease has gotten serious — if they even show up at all.
“Signs can take several years to present, so we most often diagnose dogs between the ages of 2 and 8,” Dr. Simon said. “As heartworm treatment carries risks and can be costly, vets will always advise that prevention is better than cure.”
Heartworm treatment for dogs
Treating your dog’s heartworm is pretty intense, but not impossible.
“Immiticide (aka melarsomine) is an injectable drug which has been developed to treat those with infestations,” Dr. Simon said. “In fact, it is the only licensed treatment for adult worms. It is effective for most dogs though may not work if infestations are too far advanced.”
These injections are only part of the extensive treatment process, which actually requires a lot of different steps and medication.
“The majority of patients need several injections,” Dr. Simon said. “As heartworm can carry bacteria, most patients also require a course of antibiotics. This usually means several weeks of doxycycline.”
It’s also super important that you follow each step of your dog’s heartworm treatment exactly, or it won’t be effective (and could even be harmful). This includes an essential rest period of three months post-treatment.
“The medicinal treatment must be followed by very strict rest as the worms die off,” Dr. Simon said. “This is to reduce the risk of the fragments of dead worms not being absorbed as they should be. Cage rest is advised, and the rest period is usually about three months.”
And since treatment is so involved, it can get pretty expensive.
“The cost of treatment depends on the size of your dog and severity of infestation as well as the occurrence of any adverse reactions,” Dr. Simon said. “We are usually looking at a bill of $600–1,200. On top of this, owners will need to be sure to start heartworm prevention and to administer it regularly.”
For all of these reasons, the ideal treatment for your dog’s heartworm is to actually prevent him from getting the disease in the first place.
Heartgard Plus is a highly rated chewable tablet designed to prevent heartworm in dogs. It’s available for dogs up to 100 pounds in the following weight ranges:
Hookworm in dogs
“Hookworm is an intestinal parasite that can cause serious disease, especially in young dogs,” Dr. Simon said. “The worm attaches to the intestinal mucosa [aka the inner lining of the intestinal tract] of the dog and feeds off their blood, leading to anemia.”
Hookworms are contagious to people and other animals. They can spread by laying their eggs inside your dog, which then come out in his poop. Once they become larvae, they’ll live in the soil, where they can easily infect an innocent passerby. And if you aren’t careful about where you step, you could end up with hookworms, too.
“Importantly, hookworms can infect people,” Dr. Simon said.
This happens when a person’s skin directly touches any contaminated ground. Basically, if you walk barefoot over a spot where an infected dog had previously pooped — even after it’s been cleaned up — the hookworm larvae living in that ground can get into your body through your skin and infect you.
So if your pup winds up with a hookworm infection, you’re going to want to treat it right away before it spreads.
Hookworm treatment for dogs
Luckily, treating hookworm in dogs is typically pretty easy, and you have a bunch of options.
“If a dog is diagnosed with hookworm, there are a range of treatments on the market,” Dr. Simon said. “These include worming powders, liquids, tablets and chews.”
Your veterinarian can recommend the best hookworm treatment for your pup. “It is best to get a prescription medicine from the vet so they can ensure the most appropriate product is used.”
There are effective over-the-counter (OTC) products available online, but just make sure you check with your vet before starting any treatment plan.
According to Dr. Simon, you can also use fenbendazole to both treat existing hookworm infestations and prevent them from happening in the first place.
“As with other parasitic infestations, prevention is better than cure,” Dr. Simon said. “This is why it is sensible to treat a pregnant [dog] with fenbendazole before she whelps [aka before she gives birth]. Similarly, puppies should be given the treatment every two weeks until 12 weeks old.”
If your dog does get hookworm, it shouldn’t take too long to treat.
“For most, the infestation clears in just a few days,” Dr. Simon said. “Vets advise a repeat treatment a few weeks later to eliminate any newly hatched larvae.”
But if the infection is serious enough, you might need to take your dog to the hospital.
“Badly infected dogs may require hospitalization, fluids and even a blood transfusion,” Dr. Simon said. “This can be costly, with a prolonged stay in hospital potentially costing up to $1,000 or more.”
Tapeworm in dogs
“Tapeworm is an intestinal worm that can cause diarrhea, weight loss and a failure to thrive,” Dr. Simon said. “You may spot tapeworm segments that look like grains of rice around the dog’s anus. These segments can cause itching, so some dogs will scoot their bum on the ground or lick their hind end.”
Fortunately, tapeworm isn’t as serious as some other parasitic infections your dog can get, but you should still get it treated ASAP because it can be pretty uncomfortable for your pup.
Tapeworm treatment for dogs
It’s super easy to treat your dog’s tapeworm infection since it only takes about one treatment in the form of a pill to get the job done.
And vets will use the same thing to treat tapeworms that they’d use to prevent them.
“It is sensible to use a routine tapeworm prevention [as the treatment],” Dr. Simon said. “If there are adult worms, after the medicine is given, they will detach from the wall and are excreted out.”
Tapeworm treatment is a prescription medication called praziquantel, which is available in chewable tablets. Dr. Simon’s favorite treatments that contain praziquantel are Droncit and Drontal (which comes in separate options for small, medium and large dogs).
“Treatment is straightforward, and side effects are rare,” Dr. Simon said. “As the dog digests the tapeworm, it is not often seen in the stool after a treatment.”
Roundworm in dogs
Roundworm is another parasitic infection your dog can get.
“Roundworms are also known as ascarids or nematodes and are a common internal parasite found in our dogs,” Dr. Simon said.
Some puppies can get roundworms from their moms, but adult dogs can get them, too.
“Puppies can become infected from their mother as she gives birth to them or nurses them,” Dr. Simon said. “Dogs can also catch roundworm from contact with an infected dog’s poop.”
Signs of a roundworm infection include:
- Messy poops
- Pot belly
- Difficulty gaining weight
Roundworm treatment for dogs
Luckily, a roundworm infection is super easy to treat in dogs.
According to Dr. Simon, you can use dewormers like fenbendazole and piperazine.
“Fenbendazole works by stopping the worm cells from dividing, while piperazine paralyses the worms,” Dr. Simon said. “There are a range of wormers available, many of which have different mechanisms of action. The beauty of these products is that they are able to effectively kill the parasites while keeping the dog well.”
You have a ton of options, but Dr. Simon has one favorite in particular. “I prefer Panacur [aka a fenbendazole dewormer] as it is available as a paste, liquid or powder which can be easily mixed into food,” Dr. Simon said.
Whipworm in dogs
“Whipworms are skinny and long worms that are found in a dog’s intestine,” Dr. Simon said. “Adult whipworms bury their heads in the animal’s gut, which leads to a loss of blood and potentially anemia.”
In addition to blood loss and anemia, a dog with whipworm might experience symptoms like:
- Bloody diarrhea
- Weight loss
Similarly to hookworms, whipworms can also be transferred from the poop of an infected dog or the soil where an infected dog had pooped.
But unlike hookworm, it’s incredibly rare for humans to get whipworms from a dog’s poop.
Whipworm treatment for dogs
Like several other parasitic infections, your dog’s whipworm can be treated with deworming medication.
“Several products are effective, but I prefer the combination of milbemycin oxime and lufenuron (Sentinel) as it is over 99 percent effective and is widely available as a palatable tablet that is easy to administer,” Dr. Simon said.
Sentinel is available, with a prescription from your vet, for dogs up to 100 pounds in the following weight ranges:
Prevention is always the best treatment, but if your dog ends up with a parasite, now you know what you’re up against and how to deal with it.
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