These Things Might Mean Your Dog Has A Parasite

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dog parasite symptoms

If your dog has a parasite, you definitely want to know ASAP so you can get it out of his system.

But it’s actually not that easy to spot symptoms of parasitic infections in dogs. A lot of the time, there aren’t any signs you can actually see for yourself, and if there are, they could easily be mistaken for so many other things — or it could mean the infection has gotten pretty serious.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Megan Teiber, a veterinarian with Indian Prairie Animal Hospital in Aurora, Illinois, and veterinary contributor at Savvy Doggo, to find out everything you need to know about the symptoms of parasites in dogs.

JUMP TO: Heartworm symptoms in dogs | Hookworm symptoms in dogs | Tapeworm symptoms in dogs | Dog parasite treatment

What are the symptoms of parasites in dogs?

Since there are so many different ways parasites (aka organisms that survive through a host) could infect your pup, there are a bunch of different ways symptoms of an infection could present.

“Parasites are all different and can affect various organ systems, so they don't all share common presenting symptoms,” Dr. Teiber told The Dodo. “They could all potentially cause general symptoms such as lethargy, poor weight gain or a poor appetite, but most non-parasitic diseases can cause these vague signs as well.”

In fact, a lot of parasitic infections won’t result in any visible symptoms in your dog, which makes it even harder to tell if he has an infection.

“Many parasites won't actually cause any obvious symptoms at all, especially early on in the disease, so routine testing is recommended to check for parasitic infestations in dogs,” Dr. Teiber said.

So instead of trying to look for universal signs of a parasitic infection, you should know how to identify the symptoms of specific parasitic infections.

The most common parasites that can infect dogs include heartworm, hookworm and tapeworm.

“[Heartworm, hookworm and tapeworm] are not very similar because they affect different organ systems and therefore cause different symptoms,” Dr. Teiber said.

Heartworm symptoms in dogs

It’s difficult to tell if your dog has heartworm disease because he might not even show any symptoms until things are pretty serious.

“The symptoms of heartworm disease can vary depending on the severity of the infestation,” Dr. Teiber said. “Some dogs with very mild infestation may have no symptoms at all. As the disease progresses, they can develop coughing, exercise intolerance, lethargy and shortness of breath.”

A lot of the time, your vet will be able to tell if your pup has a parasite during his annual checkup. But if your pup is at the point where he’s experiencing visible signs, take him to your vet right away.

“Heartworm disease can be fatal if not treated,” Dr. Teiber said. That’s why regular screening and prevention medication is so important.

Hookworm symptoms in dogs

If your dog is showing signs of a hookworm infection, you might notice things like:

  • Diarrhea, which can be bloody in severe cases
  • Weight loss
  • Poor weight gain
  • Lethargy
  • Anemia

But many conditions can result in symptoms like these, so you’ll want to visit your vet to find out if your dog has hookworms or something else.

And keep in mind you might not be able to spot any hookworm symptoms if your dog’s older.

“Hookworms are an intestinal parasite,” Dr. Teiber said. “Puppies are more likely to have symptoms of hookworms than adult dogs, who may have no symptoms at all.”

Tapeworm symptoms in dogs

“Most dogs won't actually have any symptoms of tapeworm,” Dr. Teiber said. “But weight loss, diarrhea or itchiness around the anal region are possible.”

Rather than seeing symptoms of tapeworms, however, you might notice the actual tapeworm instead (ew!) in your dog’s poop.

“Most cases of tapeworm are diagnosed because we see the tapeworm segments themselves,” Dr. Teiber said. “They look like small rice kernels and can be present on the stool or surrounding the anal region.”

Dog parasite treatment

Just like the symptoms, treatment will also vary depending on which parasite is infecting your dog.

“Tapeworms and hookworms are relatively easy to treat with simple deworming medications,” Dr. Teiber said.

But when it comes to heartworm treatment, it’s way more intense — and also way more serious since heartworm can be fatal.

“Treatment for heartworm is quite complicated and expensive,” Dr. Teiber said. “It will take several months, and serious side effects are possible. This is why it is very important to give your dog monthly heartworm preventatives, which are safe and very effective.”

Heartgard Plus is a highly rated chewable tablet designed to prevent heartworm in dogs. It’s available for dogs up to 25 pounds, dogs 26 to 50 pounds and dogs 51 to 100 pounds.

Even though there aren’t always visible signs that your dog has a parasite, at least you know what to look for.

If you can’t spot any symptoms of a parasite in your dog, screenings during your dog’s annual checkups should be able to identify any infections. And if something does show up in your pup’s tests, your vet can recommend the best treatment option for him.

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