Worms in dogs are very common, with up to 1/3 of all dogs being infected with intestinal parasites; roundworms, tapeworms, coccidia and giardia. In this article, I'll go over the most common types of worms, and how you can tell if your dog has worms. I'll then go on to show you how to prevent dog worms, and give the best ways to treat them, both with conventional medication and natural solutions.
Roundworms are most common; these worms are 1-3 inches long, white, and tapered or round- hence the name roundworm. The veterinary name for roundworms is Toxocara canis. These are what most puppies have when diagnosed with worms. Dogs with roundworms often have a distended belly, appearing bloated. In large infestations they can cause vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss, although most pet owners diagnose them by seeing a worm in their dog's stool. These are easily transmitted from dog to dog via worm eggs in the stool and on the ground.
Tapeworms are the next most common intestinal parasite of dogs; they are known as Dipylidium canis. Most dogs with tapeworms have few clinical signs, although a heavy infestation can cause intestinal upset and weight loss. These are easy to diagnose by finding segments of the tapeworm in your dogs stool- the segments are flat, white, and sometimes described as flat grains of rice. Dogs acquire most tapeworms after ingesting a flea; the tapeworm life-cycle includes maturing in a flea to be able to be transmitted to other dogs. Tapeworms can also be transmitted with other animals, such as your dog ingesting a mouse.
Coccidia is a worm like microscopic intestinal parasite that commonly causes diarrhea in puppies, but can affect older dogs with compromised immune systems. Coccidia is spread from dog to dog via eggs in the stool, contaminating the water and environment. Some dogs can have a small number of coccidia in their intestinal tract, but the organism flourishes if the pup is under stress (such as overcrowded, unsanitary conditions), leading to diarrhea. Coccidia can be diagnosed with a veterinary microscopic fecal flotation, and should be suspected in any puppy with diarrhea that doesn't respond to traditional roundworm treatment.
Giardia is a water borne intestinal parasite that more commonly affects adult dogs causing diarrhea; it is also known as 'beaver fever'. Giardia gets into the water via contamination by wild animals (such as beavers) and infected dogs. The giardia cysts multiply in the intestinal tract, leading to the signs of diarrhea with blood or mucous in the stool. It is a very difficult parasite to diagnose in veterinary practice, so many clinicians may just treat your dog for it with a conventional anti-giardia medication.
Good hygiene and common sense is the best way to prevent your dogs from getting dog worms in the first place. Pick up feces outside on your lawn, and prevent your dog from eating other dog's feces. Restrict your dog from drinking water in contaminated creeks, or water that is stagnant in small pools. Practice adequate flea control to limit the likelihood of tapeworms, and ensure that your dog has a hygienic, un-crowded environment to decrease the chances of developing coccidia.
The conventional treatment for dog worms depends upon the type of intestinal parasite your dog has. Roundworms are easy to treat with a common, and safe medication called pyrantel palmoate; avoid using any of the older de-wormers containing piperazine as they can be very unsafe. Treatment with Pyran (Pyrantel) is 2 doses, 10-14 days apart. As most puppies have roundworms, I suggest having them all dosed with Pyran at 6 and 8 weeks- they may need additional treatments. Tapeworms respond well to treatment with praziquantel, which may be combined with pyran (drontal); generally only 1 dose is required. Coccidia respond best to the sulfa antibiotics, usually sulfadimethoxine (S-125, or Albon); the dose being 250mg per 10lbs once daily for 14-21 days. Giardia can be treated with 2 common conventional medications, metronidazole, and an older dewormer called fenbendazole. Fenbendazole is also effective against other intestinal parasites, and is becoming the treatment of choice for Giardia. The fenbendazole dose is 250mg per 10lbs once daily for 3-7 days.
A number of different natural remedies are being used to help treat and eliminate worms in dogs. Papaya was shown to be effective in eliminating roundworms in pigs, it may work for your pet and at least it will do no harm. Pumpkin seed has been used for tapeworms. If your pet is a great hunter always re-infesting herself with tapeworms, you may want to consider this. The dose is 1 tsp per 10 lbs of body weight of the ground seed. Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) is a common anti-parasitic used for animals: give 1 capsule of the ground herb per 20 lbs of body weight. Garlic has shown some activity against a parasite called Giardia (causes Beaver Fever). It is useful in recurrent infections.
You should now have a good understanding of the common types of worms in dogs, and be able to recognize the common symptoms of infection: vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and worms in the feces. The four most common intestinal parasites are: roundworms, tapeworms, coccidia and giardia – they can all be prevented with adequate dog hygiene. Lastly you should now be aware of the most effective conventional and holistic remedies to treat your dog if they are to acquire any of these intestinal parasites.
by Dr Andrew Jones, DVM