Many pets have parasites (worms) of various varieties; especially pets who live in close quarters with others or who roam free where they can pick up parasites from feral or other animals.
Many internal parasites have intermediate hosts: animals or insects who ingest or in some way harbor the early stages of parasite development and then pass the parasite to your dog or cat. Tape worms are carried by fleas, and heartworms are carried by mosquitoes.
When is the best time to worm pets?
Many breeders routinely worm puppies and kittens at 2, 3, 4, 6, and 8 weeks of age with mild roundworm wormers. Bitches and Queens are wormed prior to breeding and after giving birth.
Since most wormers cannot be relied upon to prevent re-infection or to remove larvae that are either not present in the intestinal tract at the time of initial treatment or not in a treatable stage of development at that time, it is recommended that (in most cases) worming be done in two treatments, 2 weeks apart.
Round Worms and Hook Worms
Round worms are the most common type of worms nation-wide. Puppies frequently contract them before birth from the mother. By 4-6 weeks of age, a puppy with round worms may be exhibiting a very distended belly with signs of malnutiritoin or lack of vigor. The distended belly is literally full of long, cylindrical worms (3-4 inches long and look like spaghetti) which take up all of the room and all of the nutrition in the intestinal tract. Puppies can be wormed for round worm infestation at an early age by many over-the-counter, gentle wormers prescribed specifically for round worm treatment. Veterinarians recommend regular testing and/or treatment for roundworms.
The primary source of infection is usually the back yard where the roundworm eggs are left in the feces. It is very important to keep that area clean and not allow pets or children to play in an area contaminated with round worm eggs. Round worm and other worm eggs succumb to bleach treatment if the animals are kept in gravel or concrete kennels.
Although they can be life-threatening, round worms are usually not considered as dangerous to dogs as hook worms are.
Hook worms are smaller than roundworms. They actually attach to the inside of the intestines with their small, barbed mouths, sucking blood voraciously. They can cause anemia, bloody diareah, dehydration, and loss of blood to the extent of actually killing the host animal.
Hook worms are especially common in warm, moist climates. Hook worms are transmitted through fecal material when animals walk in or step in or eat fecal matter. To help prevent contamination, exercise your dogs in areas where other dogs are infrequent visitors. It is also very important to keep kennels and yards clean.
Whip worms are less common but can also be serious. They are passed through the same type of fecal contamination as hook worms and have most of the same serious side effects.
All of these types of worms can be passed through the mother to the offspring in utero. Therefore it is very important for breeders to make sure that their females are clear of all types of worms BEFORE breeding.
Tapeworms might be THE most common worms (transmittted through ingestion of a flea). They are one of the few types of worms whose presence is visible to the naked eye. If you examine the fecal matter of your pet, you might see tiny, white, rectangular (about 1/4" long) segments of the worms present in the stool. If still alive and viable, they might be elinked to each other head to tail to form a chain an inch long or longer. It might even move. If the segments have dried out, they will appear like tiny pieces of rice.
Until recently they have been difficult to treat using home-administered treatments, and a visit to your veterinarian was in order. However, there are now effective treatments available over the counter containing praziquantel. (Search our web site for "tapeworms").
Determining the Presence of Worms
To be certain exactly which types of worms (if any) your pets may be harboring, a fecal exam should be performed. If you are not capable of this operation, visit your veterinarian and ask him/her to check. Take a fresh stool sample with you. The vet will examne the sample under a microscope for the presence of worm eggs. Each type of worm has a distincitve shape of egg that identifies it concusively.
(Whip worms are the hardest to diagnose because they shed eggs in waves and may not always show up in any single stool sample.) After the determination, the vet will know which type of worm to treat and which medication to use.
Heartworms are carried by mosquitoes. They hatch in the blood stream and are carrried through the circulatory system, blocking arteries and filling the heart chambers. They are an insideous insult to the heart, circulatory system, lungs, and kidneys of infected dogs. If a dog has an active case of heartworms, taking a heartworm preventative such as Heartguard, Interceptor or Sentinel could be fatal. For this reason, heartworm medications are by prescription only and require a blood test annually to check for hearatworm larvae presence in the blood.
Always read directions on label before use.