Tapeworm infection can affect pets (as well as many other mammals), typically settling in the small intestine. A severe infestation can cause vomiting or weight loss, but in most cases, all that is seen is segments being passed.
Pets acquire tapeworms by ingesting an intermediate host, like an infected flea or rodent. When pets are infected, tapeworm segments that are pieces of the worm that resemble grains of rice, can often be seen on the pet’s fur. As the tapeworm grows, pieces of it break off into segments and pass through the intestines. Dried, white/cream colored segments, or pieces of tapeworm may be found wriggling in a pet's feces or stuck to the fur under the tail. Some tapeworm species will break off into segments that are too small to see, while the segments of other tapeworm species will resemble sesame or cucumber seeds in size and appearance.
Both dogs and cats suffer from the whipworm parasite. It is generally transmitted by ingesting infested matter, although whipworms can be contracted from other infected animals. Whipworm eggs can live in an environment anywhere from a few months to years, and can be present in soil, food, or water, as well as in feces or animal flesh. Whipworms infect dogs of any age.
A whipworm infection may present itself as a large bowel inflammation or bloody diarrhea, or it may be asymptomatic. Other symptoms commonly associated with a whipworm infection include dehydration, anemia, and weight loss. It is worth noting that symptoms may begin prior to any visual evidence of whipworm eggs.
Roundworms, also known as ascarids, are parasites that live inside an animal’s intestines. They’re usually white or light brown and a few inches long. If your dog has severe roundworms, you may notice them in his feces or vomit.
Infected dogs shed the microscopic roundworm eggs in their feces. Other dogs may become infected by sniffing or licking infected feces. When a dog is infected by round worms, there may also be signs of weakness and loss of appetite. A fecal swab will then be taken to detect the presence of roundworm eggs. Dead roundworms being passed out of the animal's body are a clear sign of infection.
Treatment for roundworms is completed on an outpatient basis using specific drugs to kill the roundworms and the roundworm larvae. In severe cases, surgery may be performed to remove more of the roundworm matter. It is very important to take the animal in for a repeat fecal examination to ensure that all of the roundworms, including the larvae, were eliminated from the dog's body.
Hookworms can be fatal, especially in puppies. As such, pet owners need to be vigilant for signs of hookworms in their dogs. These blood-sucking parasites can invade and live in the dog's small intestines. In their fourth-stage larvae, the hookworms can cause anemia and inflammation in the dog's small intestine. Active worms leave bite sites and those sites continue to seep blood.
A dog with this parasite looks unhealthy and has a poor appetite; the linings of its nostrils, lips, and ears will be pale. If hookworm larvae get into the lungs, the dog will cough, as well as presenting several other symptoms, including dark and tarry stool, diarrhea, and constipation. Death can come suddenly if the dog is not immediately treated.
How to spot if your dog/cat has worms and how to treat them
To get rid of the worms, a medication that will kill them or expel them will be prescribed. However, nutritional and iron supplementation may be necessary also. Puppies should be put on the worm medication at two weeks of age and continue until weaned and treated monthly after weaning to be sure that all larvae are eliminated.
The environment where your dogs roam must be clean. Pay particular attention to the accumulation of water in a container, a low-lying area, or even in a pond. If you see the symptoms listed above in your pet, take a sample of fecal matter in a sealed container to your veterinarian. If your dog does end up with an internal parasite, treatment will begin only when the parasite has been accurately identified, since there are different treatments for different types of parasites. Sometimes more than one parasite will be involved, which means that more than one treatment may be necessary. Some types of parasites will also require treatment of your dog’s environment as well.
Most treatments for internal parasites only take a few days to complete. Your veterinarian will check your dog periodically throughout the treatment period and for a number of weeks afterward to ensure that the parasites are completely eliminated. You may be asked to bring in another fecal sample within three to four weeks after treatment is complete.
Occasionally, a healthy pet will not show signs of parasites right away, which is why an annual examination is so important. But staying on top of any strange symptoms that your dog might exhibit will go a long way in keeping your pet healthy and happy.