If you find worms in your puppy's feces, or your vet tells you the pooch's fecal test came back positive for these nasty critters, don't panic. Many puppies have worms, and eradicating them is relatively easy. Don't use an over-the-counter wormer, as such products aren't guaranteed to treat the specific worms infesting your puppy. Your vet can provide you with the right worming medication.
Worms in Puppies
Puppies usually become infected with worms in utero when their mother is infested. After birth, they can pick up worms from mom while nursing. Their mother might have acquired worms from eating a rodent or another infested animal, or inadvertently eating worm eggs in infected soil. Eggs hatch in her gastrointestinal system, and worms encyst in other parts of the dog's body, often the liver. Eventually, these worms move on to the lungs, but in pregnant dogs they head to the uterus and infect fetuses.
Types of Worms
Roundworms and hookworms most commonly affect puppies. Roundworms eat incompletely digested food in the puppy's intestines, while hookworms feed by attaching themselves to the intestinal wall. If the mother dog or puppies have fleas, they might also have tapeworms. You might spot tapeworm segments around your puppy's anus or in his feces. These broken-off worm segments resemble rice grains. Heartworms and whipworms aren't usually found in puppies.
Puppies infected with worms usually experience diarrhea, sometimes with blood in it. Roundworm infestation can give a puppy a potbellied appearance, along with a dull, dry coat. Hookworm infestation is particularly dangerous, as these parasites can cause anemia in young puppies because they suck so much blood.
Even if your vet doesn't find worm eggs in the stool sample, she might recommend worming your puppy as a proactive measure. That's because not every stool sample will contain worm eggs, and the medication is safe and effective. Worming is a two-stage process. The initial dose kills off adult worms, but the puppy needs another dose three weeks later to kill the larvae. Since worm eggs are so common in the environment, your puppy requires regular worming into adulthood. When he's older and receives regular heartworm preventative from your veterinarian, that medication usually takes care of most other worm species as well, with the exception of tapeworm. Your vet will inform you what other parasites heartworm preventatives eradicate, and will help you determine which is best for your dog.
The best way to prevent worms in puppies is by ensuring that the mother is up-to-date on heartworm preventative and flea control medication before breeding her. While it's safe for her to receive regular heartworm medication during her two-month gestation, ask your vet about safe flea products for pregnant dogs. Heartworm preventative gets rid of only intestinal-tract roundworms or hookworms, not encysted larvae. To ensure her puppies are born without worms, the dog must receive a daily wormer during her pregnancy. Your vet can advise you on treatment for your canine mother-to-be.
By Jane Meggitt
Veterinary Partner: Roundworms -- Dogs and Puppies
petMD: Intestinal Worms in Dogs (and Cats) 101
Webvet: Intestinal Worms in Dogs and Cats
River Road Pet Clinic: Do All Puppies Have Worms?
University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine: How Do Dogs Get Worms?
About the Author
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.