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What Causes Roundworms in Dogs and How to Get Rid of Them

Roundworms are prevalent parasites in dogs, often alongside hookworms and whipworms. They pose significant health risks, particularly to puppies, and in rare instances, they can lead to fatalities. Fortunately, roundworm infestations in dogs are readily identifiable and treatable. This guide will explore all aspects of roundworms in dogs, including their definition, symptoms, treatment, and prevention strategies.

What Are Roundworms?

Roundworms, scientifically referred to as ascaridoid nematodes, are sizable intestinal parasites frequently encountered in young dogs, particularly puppies. While puppies are more susceptible, adult dogs can also harbor roundworm infections. There exist two significant species of roundworms: Toxocara canis (T. Canis) and Toxascaris leonina. T. Canis is the predominant species found in puppies and can potentially be transmitted to humans.

How Do Dogs Get Roundworms?

Dogs can acquire roundworms through various means.

From Their Mother

Roundworm transmission to puppies most commonly occurs through the placenta from their mother. In adult dogs, the ingestion of eggs leads to the hatching of larvae, which then migrate through the intestines and various tissues of the body. These larvae enter a dormant stage within cysts until the dog becomes pregnant. During estrus, the larvae resume development and migrate through the placenta into the developing puppy fetus. Additionally, puppies can also contract roundworms while nursing, as larvae may migrate into the mammary glands.

Ingesting Roundworm Eggs

When puppies under 3 months old consume roundworm eggs, the larvae can penetrate their intestines and migrate to the lungs, where they are subsequently coughed up. Upon being coughed up, the larvae are swallowed again and mature into adult worms within the intestinal tract. These adult worms then produce eggs, which can be detected under a microscope in stool samples.

Eating Animals That Carry Roundworm Eggs

Roundworm eggs can also be disseminated by various animals such as rodents, birds, and earthworms. These animals, known as paratenic hosts or dead-end hosts, serve solely to transport the eggs. If a dog consumes one of these animals, the roundworm eggs can progress in their development within the dog’s body.

Can You See Roundworms in Dog Poop? How Can You Tell if Your Dog Has Roundworms?

Roundworms in dog feces or vomit can sometimes be visible to the naked eye, typically appearing white to pale brown and measuring several inches in length, up to 7 inches. However, their absence from sight doesn’t guarantee their absence altogether. Usually, roundworms are diagnosed by detecting their eggs in fecal samples under a microscope. After reaching 6 months of age, and in adult dogs, roundworm larvae become encysted in the body tissues, ceasing development, and resulting in few eggs being present in feces. This stage can pose challenges in diagnosis and treatment. T. canis larvae may resume development during estrus (heat), and in immunocompromised dogs, the larvae can complete their life cycle.

Roundworm Symptoms in Dogs

The indications of roundworms in puppies may initially be subtle, with many symptoms arising from the roundworms depleting nutrients in the small intestines that the puppy needs. Symptoms can manifest as:

  • Lack of growth
  • Poor body condition
  • Dull hair coat
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea accompanied by mucus
  • Observation of roundworms in dog vomit or feces
  • Coughing
  • Your veterinarian may also observe:
  • Fluid accumulation in the abdomen
  • Kidney granulomas (masses)
  • Fatty liver

Can Humans Get Roundworms From Dogs?

Humans can indeed contract roundworms from dogs if they ingest the larvae. Hence, practicing thorough hygiene when interacting with puppies and their environment is crucial. While many human infections may not exhibit symptoms, roundworm infection can result in Visceral Larva Migrans, characterized by symptoms like fever and liver enlargement. In rare instances, larvae may migrate to the eyes, leading to visual impairment.

How to Treat Roundworms in Dogs

Treatment of roundworms in dogs necessitates the expertise of a veterinarian, as there are no verified home remedies. Various drugs, such as milbemycin, pyrantel, and fenbendazole, are approved for roundworm treatment in dogs and are both safe and effective. Typically, adult roundworms perish within a few days after deworming. Heartworm preventatives also aid in controlling future infections. Since most treatments target adult worms and not larvae or eggs, multiple treatments spaced two weeks apart are typically advised. The number of treatments recommended by your veterinarian hinges on factors like your dog’s age and current health status, including pregnancy. Reinfection is a possibility, underscoring the importance of preventing future roundworm infections as part of the treatment regimen.

How to Prevent Roundworms in Dogs

Preventing roundworms in dogs is paramount for successful treatment. Follow these guidelines to help prevent your dog from contracting roundworms:

  • Promptly remove your dog’s feces from areas such as the yard, dog parks, and children’s play areas, as roundworm eggs can survive on various surfaces, including soil.
  • Deworm pregnant dogs during late pregnancy to reduce the risk of newborn puppies acquiring roundworms.
  • Initiate regular deworming for your puppy beginning at 2 weeks of age.
  • Administer heartworm medications to your puppy or dog to eliminate adult worms and prevent the spread of eggs in the environment.
  • Maintain strict hygiene practices, including handwashing after handling puppies or feces, and keeping the environment as clean as possible.
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