Heartworms and Other Internal Parasites that Affect Puppies

Heartworms and other internal parasites are more of a health hazard to dogs and puppies than external parasites. Internal parasites are especially dangerous to puppies because they can really mess with the puppy’s developing systems and can deplete the necessary balance of nutrients.

If you have young children, take extra precaution with the internal parasites. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to humans. Walk your puppy in an area where your children don’t play, and carry a poop bag for immediate cleanup. Enforce good hygiene habits in your children, too, encouraging them to wash their hands before they eat.

Heartworms and puppies

This nasty worm is transmitted by mosquitoes (and therefore is more prevalent in warmer climates) and lives in the chambers of the heart and in the lungs. If left untreated, heartworm disease is fatal. Preventing this disease with medication is much better than curing it after your puppy is affected.

Look into once-a-month prevention pills. These medications are prescribed according to weight. If you have a puppy, be sure to ask your veterinarian how to accommodate for her growth. Though these pills are more expensive than daily pills, busy people often prefer them. They also have the added advantage of preventing and treating many common intestinal parasites.

Follow your veterinarian’s prescription. If he says to use the heartworm prevention year-round, you should do so. Also, you must still have an annual heartworm test done on your puppy, because prevention doesn’t work 100 percent of the time.

Other internal parasites that affect puppies

Following is a list of other nasty but fairly common internal parasites (see your vet for the diagnosis and treatment options):

  • Coccidia: These parasites lay their eggs in stools, and dogs become infected by eating other dogs’ stools. Intestines playing hotel to these creatures become inflamed, which leads to loose, watery stools; bloating; vomiting; weight loss; and strained elimination.

  • Giardia: These water-loving creatures are found in most outdoor water sources, especially in warm climates. After being ingested, they feast on the inner lining of the small intestine, creating inflammation, which leads to loose, mucus-coated stools; vomiting; bloating; and weight loss. If left untreated, it can cause anemia and dry skin. These parasites are easy to detect, but early prognosis is key, so get your pup to the vet if you notice symptoms.

  • Hookworms: Dogs pick up hookworms by eating an infected animal’s feces. A pup can become infected by nursing on her mom or coming in contact with worms that creep through her tender skin. Symptoms include bloating; excessive gas; smelly, loose stools; weight loss with a failure to gain weight despite a large appetite; bloody stools; a dry, brittle coat; and even severe anemia and death.

  • Roundworms: This type of parasite floats inside a dog’s body — in the liver, through the heart, and in the lungs. In their final stage, roundworms settle in the small intestine, where they feast on your dog’s dinner. Many dogs who have a case of roundworms are plagued with an insatiable appetite or no appetite and vomiting, smelly diarrhea, gas, and bloating. Make an appointment with your vet if you suspect your dog has roundworms.

  • Tapeworms: Signs that a dog is infected with tapeworms include an increased appetite accompanied with weight loss, rectal itching, abdominal pain, and indigestion. Dogs pick up this parasite by eating fleas, which serve as the tapeworms’ intermediate hosts. See your vet if you find something that looks like white rice in your puppy’s bedding or near her potty spot.

  • Whipworms: Whipworms live and reproduce in a dog’s large intestine, causing inflammation and the following symptoms: bloating and cramps; bloody or mucus-coated stools; a dry, brittle coat; smelly diarrhea; and a major appetite. Also, some puppies may have vomiting, anemia, and/or no appetite. Dogs become infected with whipworms by eating worm-ridden stools or by stepping in feces and licking their paws.

Hookworms and roundworms aren’t strangers to humans. Children can fall victim to these parasites if their play area is frequented by free-ranging pets (cats as well as dogs). These parasites are usually transmitted in a fecal-oral fashion, but they can also enter through the skin. If you suspect you or a child has hookworms or roundworms, call your doctor immediately.

To prevent these problems, clean up after your puppy, wash your hands after cleaning, and check your child’s play area twice a day. Have your pet routinely screened for intestinal parasites, and use monthly heartworm prevention that includes intestinal parasite control. Though not common, a roundworm infection in humans can cause blindness or neurological damage.

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