Dog roundworms live inside, and feed off of an animal’s intestines. True to their name, they look like worms and have sometimes been referred to as “spaghetti-like”. They are typically a few inches long and are white or light brown in color. Roundworms in dogs (also called “Toxocara Canis“) can become a very serious problem and, with one parasite producing up to 85,000 eggs a day, they are highly contagious. It’s important to know what causes your pet to become infected by them, how to prevent it from ever happening, and the treatment required should your dog become infected.
Causes of Roundworms in Dogs
Roundworms are very common and can be found in many places where animals live and wander. While any dog can get roundworms, puppies are especially at risk. This is because if the mother has roundworms, her puppies can contract them either before birth or after drinking her milk.
Roundworms are also found in the environment, and this is another way dogs and puppies become infected with them. If they eat roundworm eggs, usually ingested through another animal’s feces, those eggs hatch and turn into larvae. These larvae then travel to the dog’s liver and to the windpipe. This will cause the dog to cough and swallow the larvae. From there they travel into the intestine, and it’s here that they’ll grow into adult roundworms. There they’ll lay eggs of their own, which will further the infection and make your dog even sicker.
Transmission of roundworms to humans is rare, but possible. If humans come into contact with infected feces, it can lead to infection along with eye, lung, heart, and neurological problems. Children are especially at risk and should always be kept away from areas that animals have been and pooped, and should never play in soil near these areas. Children and adults alike should also always, always wash their hands thoroughly after being outside or at areas where animals have gone to the bathroom.
Symptoms of Roundworms in Dogs
One of the biggest signs that your dog has roundworms is that they show up in his or her poop or vomit. If you do see them, make sure to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible. Although evidence of the roundworms will be fairly evident, the doctor will still want to test samples to determine how advanced the infection is and what the best treatment options are.
In addition to seeing the roundworms, other symptoms include:
- An enlarged abdomen, giving the dog a pot-belly look
- Sudden weakness, inability to complete even small activities such as taking their usual walk
- A sore abdomen or belly
- Lackluster coat, lack of shine
- Weight loss, especially if rapid and sudden
Treatment for Roundworms in Dogs
After samples have been tested and it’s been confirmed that your dog has roundworms, the vet will prescribe a deworming drug. There are several treatment options, including:
All of these drugs will be taken in different doses. The first dose will kill all of the adult worms, with follow-up doses that will eliminate any worms that weren’t developed enough during the first round.
Puppies are often given these deworming treatments even without roundworms being present, because the parasites are so common among young dogs. These treatments are usually given when the pup is around two or three weeks old.
Once treatments are initially completed, dogs will still need to get regular fecal exams to ensure that the parasites don’t come back. These exams should even be done for dogs that have never had an issue with roundworms, to help prevent further infection. Puppies are usually tested two to four times a year while dogs one year and older are typically tested just once or twice a year.
Prevention of Roundworms in Dogs
Roundworms are extremely common, and extremely contagious. And although treatments are relatively easy, the ideal route is always to keep your dog healthy and happy. The best way to do that is to prevent your dog from ever becoming infected in the first place.
- If you get a dog as a puppy, start deworming when they are around three weeks old. Also be sure to ask the person you got the puppy from if they’ve been dewormed.
- Make sure that female dogs are treated before they breed, and again during pregnancy, as roundworms are so easily passed on through birth.
- Always keep your dog’s areas clean, including where they eat, sleep, and play.
- Dispose of poop properly. Make sure that everything is completely picked up, whether you’re in the yard or in the park. Never let your dog use a playground or sandbox as a litterbox. Not only is it unsanitary for the people that will be using it, wild animals could also use it for the same thing, making transmission to your pet even easier.
- Keep your dog away from wild animals as much as possible, even squirrels and mice. Make sure that they are always on a leash or in a fenced yard.
- Make heartworm drugs a regular part of your dog’s health. These medicines often contain ingredients that also prevent roundworms.
Roundworms in dogs are something that every dog owner fears. But truthfully, it’s so common that most dog owners are going to have to deal with it at some time or another. Knowing how to spot it and treat it can help a sick dog recover more quickly, and knowing how to prevent it can stop it from happening altogether.