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Intestinal Worms: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Intestinal Worms in Pets: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

Worms are internal parasites often found in domestic pets.

The five most well-known types of intestinal worms are:

  • Heartworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Roundworms
  • Hookworms
  • Whipworms

Worms can cause your pet serious discomfort, and can be fatal to puppies. These parasites affect the digestive organs, causing major issues like diarrhea, weight loss and anemia.

Symptoms of Worms

Signs your pet may have worms include:

  • Diarrhea (may be bloody)
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Tummy pain
  • Bloated belly
  • Rough, dry coat
  • Scooting on his bottom
  • Lethargy

More serious symptoms may also be present, but can be more difficult to identify without a vet visit:

  • Dehydration
  • Deficiencies in nutrition
  • Anemia
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Pneumonia

Heartworms may also cause respiratory symptoms such as coughing, weak pulse and lethargy. In extreme cases, heartworms can cause labored breathing and pale gums. If not swiftly treated, heartworms can be fatal.

What Causes Worms?

Intestinal worms are most often ingested (eaten), but there are other ways that these parasites can infect your pet:

  • Hookworms burrow in through the skin
  • Other worms can transfer to unborn puppies through the placenta
  • Some worms can transfer to nursing puppies through a mother’s milk

Diagnosing Worms

Sometimes you’ll be able to see the worms in your pet’s stool. If you don’t see worms, but suspect they might be there, call your vet immediately.

Roundworms and hookworms aren’t visible to the naked eye. Your vet will have to view your pet’s stool under a microscope to identify them.

If your vet suspects whipworms, he will look under the microscope for eggs in your pet’s stool. Whipworms lay a few tiny eggs now and then, making them more difficult to diagnose. To rule out false negative results, your vet might need several stool samples.

Heartworms are most often diagnosed with a blood test. Sometimes, radiograph, ultrasound or echocardiogram (ECG) will diagnose heartworms.

Treating Worms

Treating worms quickly can reduce health risks and prevent the worms from spreading.

Treatment depends on the type of worm affecting your pet. Most treatments, though, include an oral medication to treat the condition.

Do not try treating worms yourself! Medications that kill roundworms, for example, don't kill tapeworms. Only your vet can prescribe the right medication to treat your pet’s intestinal worms.

Preventing Worms

Keep your yard free of pet waste. Most worms are transmitted when pets eat feces contaminated with parasite eggs. Hookworms can also burrow in through your pet’s skin, so keeping your pets away from all fecal matter is best.

Control fleas. Tapeworms live inside fleas. If your pet ingests a flea, he can get tapeworms.

Don’t let your pet drink stagnant water. It’s a breeding ground for parasites.

Be careful with raw meat. A raw diet is healthy for pets, but it’s imperative they’re getting their meat from a trusted source. Dead animals are often riddled with dormant parasites deep in their muscle tissue. If your pet eats wild prey, those parasites can become active and multiply.

Your vet may recommend a preventative medication, such as Ivermectin, Trifexis or Sentinel Spectrum.

Preventative medications are available by prescription only. Talk to your veterinarian about which option is best for your pet.