How Do Dogs Get Parasites?

Here's how dogs can get infected with common parasites.

how do dogs get parasites

Hearing about all the different parasites that can infect your dog can feel pretty overwhelming.

But learning about how your dog can get these parasites to begin with means you can find the best ways to keep him safe from infection.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Michelle Burch, a veterinarian from Safe Hounds Pet Insurance, to find out how dogs get parasites.

What are some common parasites in dogs?

There are a few types of parasites that are common in dogs. These include:

  • Heartworms
  • Hookworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Roundworms
  • Whipworms

What is heartworm in dogs?

Heartworm disease occurs when worms infect your dog’s heart, specifically his pulmonary artery. (That’s the vessel that brings blood from his heart to his lungs.)

Heartworms can cause serious, life-threatening issues, like inflammation or even blockages.

How do dogs get heartworms?

The only way your dog can get heartworms is through another pest — the mosquito.

“Dogs are infected with heartworm by being bitten by an infected mosquito,” Dr. Burch told The Dodo.

When an infected mosquito bites your dog, it also leaves heartworm larvae on his skin. The larvae will then work their way under your pup’s skin and through his system until they get to his heart.

“The larva will undergo two molts and migrate to the pulmonary arteries, with the adults finally settling in the right side of the heart and pulmonary arteries,” Dr. Burch said.

Is there heartworm prevention for dogs?

Luckily, heartworm disease is super preventable — and it’s way easier and cheaper than treating an actual infection.

“I recommend dogs [be] administered year-round prophylactic medications prescribed by your veterinarian,” Dr. Burch said. “Administration frequency will depend on the formulation and product used.”

Dr. Burch recommends heartworm preventatives like:

What are tapeworms in dogs?

Tapeworm is a parasitic worm that lives in your pup’s intestines and can grow to be pretty long.

“Adult tapeworms can reach a length of 15 to 75 centimeters,” Dr. Burch said.

Your dog can pass little segments of these worms through his poop, and noticing these worm segments is often how this infection gets diagnosed.

Tapeworm can cause issues like diarrhea and weight loss.

How do dogs get tapeworms?

Dogs actually get tapeworms by eating infected fleas. First, a flea will eat a tapeworm egg. Then, if your dog eats the flea, he becomes infected.

Once your dog starts digesting the infected flea, that tapeworm egg gets freed up inside his system, where it will ultimately hatch.

Finally, the tapeworm will mature and latch onto the wall of your dog’s intestines with its mouth.

Is there tapeworm prevention for dogs?

You have several options when it comes to tapeworm prevention for dogs.

“Prevention of tapeworms in dogs is to have adequate flea control in your environment,” Dr. Burch said. “I recommend all animals in the household be maintained on year-round flea prevention.”

Dr. Burch recommends the following flea prevention products:

What are hookworms in dogs?

Hookworm is another parasite that’ll attach itself to your dog’s intestines.

“Hookworms are a nematode parasite that will affect the small intestines of dogs and other species,” Dr. Burch said. “Hookworms will attach to the intestines with six sharp teeth and feed off the animal's blood.”

How do dogs get hookworms?

Dogs can get hookworms either by ingesting hookworm larvae or coming into direct contact with them.

“Dogs can become infected with hookworms in three main routes,” Dr. Burch said. “The first is the ingestion of a larval stage from the environment. The second is the ingestion of other animals with the infected larva in their tissue. The third is the larva entering through the skin.”

Basically, hookworm eggs are passed through an infected dog’s poop. When the eggs hatch, the larvae end up living in the soil, and dogs can pick them up if they sniff the soil or walk over the area and lick their paws later.

Is there hookworm prevention for dogs?

Regular preventative medication is another important part of keeping hookworms at bay, and dewormers can be effective at preventing hookworms in dogs.

“Recently adopted puppies need to be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible to start deworming,” Dr. Burch said.

When it comes to deworming medication, Dr. Burch recommends you look for a product that contains pyrantel.

Some of Dr. Burch’s favorites include:

On top of preventatives, make sure you clean up after your dog right away after he goes to the bathroom. That’ll help keep other dogs hookworm-free.

“[Keeping] a dog's environment clean with the removal of feces as soon as possible is necessary to reduce the risk of reinfection,” Dr. Burch said. “After the removal of feces, surfaces should be cleaned with a dilute bleach solution.”

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What is roundworm in dogs?

Roundworm is another intestinal parasite in dogs.

A roundworm infection can cause things like:

  • Messy poops
  • Pot belly
  • Difficulty gaining weight

How do dogs get roundworms?

There are a few different ways dogs can get roundworms.

“Dogs will become infected with roundworms from ingestion of an infective egg from feces, ingestion of infected tissue, ingestion of their mother's milk, or across the placenta,” Dr. Burch said.

So if your dog eats an infected animal or ingests their poop, nursing milk or placenta, they can become infected with roundworms.

Is there roundworm prevention for dogs?

How you’d prevent roundworms in dogs is pretty similar to the way you’d prevent hookworms.

Dewormers are a great way to prevent this parasitic infection.

Cleaning up after your dog goes to the bathroom is pretty important, too, to prevent an infection from spreading to other dogs.

“All feces should be removed and disposed of promptly to decrease environmental contamination,” Dr. Burch said. “Ensure to practice proper hygiene when removing feces, including hand washing.”

What is whipworm in dogs?

Whipworms are another kind of intestinal parasite your dog can get.

These worms can cause things like:

  • Blood loss
  • Anemia
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Weight loss

How do dogs get whipworms?

“Dogs become infected with whipworms from ingesting infective eggs from the environment,” Dr. Burch said. “Eggs shed in the feces are not infective until after two to three weeks in the environment.”

So if an infected animal poops outside, and your dog eats a bit of the soil about three weeks later, he could become infected with whipworms.

Is there whipworm prevention medicine for dogs?

When it comes to whipworm prevention, there are a few year-round medicines you can give your dog.

For this, Dr. Burch recommends:

“Prevention of whipworm infection is best achieved with prompt removal and disposal of feces from the environment,” Dr. Burch said. “Once eggs are present in the environment, they are difficult to destroy and can survive for years.”

So dogs can get parasites from a whole bunch of things, like poop, contaminated soil and other pests. Luckily, there are a ton of preventatives you can give your pup to keep him from ever getting infected in the first place.

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