Worms are not just unpleasant, they can make your pet sick. Some internal parasites are zoonotic, which means they can make you and your family sick as well. But you might not even realize your dog is infected, since not all worms can be seen in dog poop, and many pets do not show any signs. Thankfully, it’s easy to protect against worms in dogs through regular parasite control.
If your dog isn’t already on year-round parasite control, or if she is taking a monthly medication but you’re not sure what types of worms she has protection against, don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian. Not sure how to get the conversation started? Here’s how to talk to your veterinarian about worms in dogs.
Why Do Dogs Need Year-Round Parasite Protection?
Before talking to your veterinarian, it’s helpful to understand why parasite protection is important for dogs. Internal parasites are a year-round problem. Even if the ground is frozen solid, your dog can encounter parasites.
Dogs can become infected in a variety of ways, most commonly through ingestion of parasite eggs. Infected dogs or wild animals shed worm eggs in their stool, which can live in the soil long after the stool is gone. These eggs can also hang on around the anus or tail. It’s easy to imagine how dogs get worms, as they stick their noses into every smell they find. So if your dog eats an infected animal’s poop, or sticks her nose in dirt that contains infective eggs and then licks it off, she can contract roundworms, hookworms, or whipworms—three of the most common worms in dogs. According to a recent study of dog parks across the U.S., intestinal parasites were found in 1 in 5 dogs and 8 out of 10 parks (1).
In addition, hookworms and roundworms are infectious to people. Humans can become infected if they inadvertently ingest soil that contains hookworm or roundworm eggs, especially children who play in the dirt and then put their hands in their mouths. Hookworms can also infect people through skin contact with contaminated soil, such as when walking barefoot outside. The immature worm can migrate through the skin, causing a rash called cutaneous larva migrans.
Another way your dog can get worms is by eating infected small animals, such as that squirrel she was chasing in the backyard or that questionable rodent lying in those bushes. If your dog has a habit of chasing and eating small animals or is off her leash and unsupervised, she is at risk of contracting roundworms, hookworms, or tapeworms.
Fleas can also carry a common species of tapeworm. So if your dog is grooming her fur and accidentally ingests an infected flea, she can become infected with tapeworms.
Intestinal parasites are unlikely to be life-threatening to an otherwise healthy adult dog, but they can make your pet sick and very uncomfortable, causing symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. However, worms can cause death in puppies and dogs with other illnesses.
Another type of worm to protect your dog against, though not an intestinal parasite, is heartworm. Unlike intestinal worms, heartworms live in the blood vessels inside the lungs and the heart. If your dog is bitten by an infected mosquito, she is at risk for heartworm disease—a serious and life-threatening condition.
How to Bring Up the Subject of Worms in Dogs
Asking your vet about worms in dogs will be far from the grossest thing she hears that day. Most veterinarians are passionate about their role as public health advocates in the control of parasite infections in pets and will gladly talk to you about worms in dogs. Never be afraid to bring up worms or any other issue you are concerned about when it comes to your pet. If you don’t ask questions, your veterinarian may focus the conversation on something else during your visit. And without your input and feedback, you won’t get the full value of the visit and their helpful knowledge.
Oftentimes pet parents wait until they see worms to ask their veterinarian about internal parasite control. By then, their yard and their local walking route is already contaminated, putting others at even greater risk for infection. Aside from risk to others, your dog is now at risk for continued re-infection as well. Year-round parasite control is safer, easier, and more effective. A monthly chew like Interceptor® Plus (milbemycin oxime/praziquantel) protects dogs against heartworm disease and hookworm, roundworm, whipworm, and tapeworm infections.
See important safety information below for Interceptor® Plus.
Some heartworm preventives only protect against one or two of these types of worms, so it is important to have a conversation with your veterinarian about your family’s lifestyle and your dog’s exposure to risks to ensure you choose the right option.
What to Ask Your Vet About Worms In Dogs
Each family is different, so what is right for one pet may not be right for another. Be an advocate for your pet and ask your veterinarian a lot of questions. A dog who uses potty pads may not need broad-spectrum protection, while one who loves nothing more than nosing around in the dirt should be protected against all of the common worms dogs are at risk for.
Remember to be honest about your dog’s lifestyle. If she’s off her lead or outside in the yard unsupervised or catches the occasional rabbit in the backyard, tell your veterinarian. Does she enjoy hiking? Does she visit parks, walking paths, and other common areas frequented by other dogs? Make sure all of your dog’s risks are covered by communicating honestly about her everyday activities.
It may help to write down your questions before your visit so you feel more comfortable asking them. Some potential questions to ask about worms in dogs include:
- How do dogs get worms?
- Should I treat my dog even if I don’t see worms?
- My dog only goes outside to potty, does she still need parasite control?
- How often should I give parasite protection?
- What should I do if I see worms on my dog?
- Which type of parasite preventive provides the best protection for my dog?
- My dog goes to daycare and the dog park frequently. Are there any additional steps I need to take to protect her against parasites?
- Does my dog really need parasite protection year-round?
If your list of questions starts growing, and you don’t have an appointment scheduled soon, call your veterinarian to talk about your concerns. While the internet can be a good source of information (if it’s coming from a credible media outlet), it is never a substitute for a conversation with your veterinarian. Most veterinarians are happy to talk with you over the phone as long as they have seen your pet recently.
If you’re unsure about an answer your veterinarian gives you, politely ask for more information. Sometimes there are alternative treatments and other ways to handle a problem with your pet. If your veterinarian’s recommendation doesn’t meet you and your pet’s needs, speak up. For example, if you can’t get your dog to take pills, ask if there is a chewable formulation that is more palatable. Most veterinary clinics do not stock all parasite control options, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a specific product. Some clinics have online pharmacies that will fill your order, or you can ask for a written prescription to fill at your preferred pet pharmacy.
A good veterinarian values your needs and concerns and will always work with you to find the ideal plan for your pet. By keeping an open dialogue and building a positive doctor-client relationship, it will result in better health outcomes. Ultimately, you and your veterinarian both want the same thing—to protect your pet so you can enjoy many healthy and happy years together.
Interceptor Plus prevents heartworm disease and treats and controls adult roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, and tapeworm infections in dogs and puppies 6 weeks or older and 2 pounds or greater.
Interceptor Plus Important Safety Information
Treatment with fewer than 6 monthly doses after the last exposure to mosquitoes may not provide complete heartworm prevention. Prior to administration of Interceptor Plus, dogs should be tested for existing heartworm infections. The safety of Interceptor Plus has not been evaluated in dogs used for breeding or in lactating females. The following adverse reactions have been reported in dogs after administration of milbemycin oxime or praziquantel: vomiting, diarrhea, decreased activity, incoordination, weight loss, convulsions, weakness, and salivation. For complete safety information, please see Interceptor Plus product label or ask your veterinarian.
Disclaimer: The author received compensation from Elanco US Inc., the maker of Interceptor Plus, for her services in writing this article.
- Stafford, K., Kollasch, T.M., Duncan, K.T. et al. Detection of gastrointestinal parasitism at recreational canine sites in the USA: the DOGPARCS study. Parasites Vectors 13, 275 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13071-020-04147-6
Interceptor is a trademark of Elanco or its affiliates.
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