Have you ever seen your dog eat grass, dirt, or feces? Does your dog go to the dog park or play with other dogs? Is your dog known to chase rabbits? Has he ever had fleas?
These are all factors and behaviors that put your pet at risk for intestinal worm infection.
How do dogs get worms?
1) From the environment: Dogs infected with worms shed thousands of tiny, microscopic eggs into the environment through their feces. From there, the eggs are dispersed into soil, sand, vegetative growth (grass, plants) or even in water. Dogs become infected when they inadvertently eat these eggs. Think of dogs that eat grass, dirt, or lick the ground. Hookworms are unique in that they can also penetrate a dog’s skin if she happens to be walking or lying down in a contaminated area. Once they break the skin, they will migrate to the intestines.
2) From eating other infected animals: Dogs are not the only ones eating parasite eggs. Rodents, rabbits, birds, and even bugs (like fleas) eat parasite eggs too. However, unlike in dogs, in these creatures the eggs DO NOT grow up into adult worms but rather stay in a hibernating, encysted state. When a dog then eats one of these critters (have you ever seen Duke chasing a rabbit or mouse?), the “sleeping” worm will wake up and grow into an adult inside the dog. From there, the worm will live in the dog's intestines drinking blood or stealing nutrients and shedding eggs into the feces.
3) From their mother: Puppies are often infected with worms before they are born or through their mother’s milk while nursing.
Is there a worm season?
Dogs can be at risk for infection anytime of the year. Many of the eggs that are released into the environment are very durable and can survive environmental extremes (including harsh winters) for several years. It is important as a dog owner to always be aware and on guard year-round. Warmer weather can especially increase the risk of your dog picking up intestinal worms because people tend to spend more time with their dogs outside and wildlife becomes more active.
While there are a variety of signs that your dog may show if infected, it is not uncommon for dogs to show no signs at all, appearing perfectly normal. However, the most common clinical signs are typically diarrhea, blood in the stool and vomiting. Weight loss, a bloated belly, coughing and dehydration are also possibilities. Severe cases, if left untreated, can even result in death. Owners may also see visible noodle-like worms in their dog's stool or vomit, or they may see tapeworm egg packets, which look like sesame seeds or dry pieces of rice, stuck to the hair around their dog's rear, on their bedding or in their stool. If you suspect your dog has worms or is acting sick, you should visit your veterinarian. There are effective dewormers available over the counter at pet stores and online.
What do I do if my dog has worms?
Don't panic. It's not uncommon for dogs to be infected with some type of worm in their lifetime. Luckily, there are many effective dewormers available through veterinarians or pet specialty stores.