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Horrors of Heartworm and other Pet Parasites

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Warning: the following content is not for the faint of heart. Worms Ė if you donít know about the dangers of these parasites, youíre about to embark on an informational and semi-creepy adventure. As if fleas and ticks werenít enough to worry about in owning a pet, worms can pose as equally troubling health problems. Take a few minutes to learn about just how important it is to keep the worms out of your pet Ė for good!

Heartworm infection primarily affects canines but felines are still affected. Heartworm infections can significantly damage the heart, lungs, and other organs if left untreated. Heartworms are transmitted through mosquito bites; a mosquito bites an infected dog and ingests heartworm larvae, passing onto the next dog it bites. The larvae penetrates the dogís skin and travels through the body to the heart. It typically takes a few months for the infection to reach the heart. Upon arrival, worms can grow to 14 inches.

Common heartworm symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Diminished strength and vitality
  • Lethargy

Severe infections can result in sudden death with the following conditions:

  • Obstruct heart chambers and blood vessels
  • Lead to development of pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Cause heart failure

Heartworm disease is diagnosed by testing a small blood sample for the presence of heartworm larvae or heartworm antibodies. Depending on the severity, monthly preventatives are available. Consult your veterinarian for the appropriate choices.

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These worms are transmitted through the ingestion of eggs in infected rodents, soil or milk from an infected mother. The eggs hatch into larvae in the stomach and the larvae travel to the small intestine, maturing into adult roundworms. The adults lay eggs, passing out of the pet in feces. Roundworms can be transmitted from mother to puppy in the utero.

Roundworms can cause the following symptoms:

  • Bloated belly
  • Blood/mucus in stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting

In severe cases, roundworms can cause intestinal obstruction and become fatal in puppies and kittens. Roundworms are diagnosed by examining the feces for the presence of eggs. Oral medications are available for treating roundworms; consult your veterinarian for the safest necessary option.

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Hookworms are the most common canine intestinal parasite in the U.S., responsible for approximately 20% of all dogs. These worms attach to a dogís intestinal lining with hook-like teeth. Hookworm infections are transmitted by ingesting infective larvae from soil or by the larvae attaching and burrowing through the dogís skin. Once inside the dogís body, the larvae travels to the small intestine, matures, mates and lays eggs. The eggs pass into the soil through the dogís feces. Hookworms can also be transmitted through a nursing motherís milk.

Hookworm symptoms can include:

  • Anemia (severe cases)
  • Diarrhea
  • Diminished strength and vitality

Hookworms are diagnosed by examining the feces for eggs. Oral medications are available for treatment; consult your veterinarian for the best option.

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Tapeworms are long, segmented worms that can live in a petís small intestine. Several species of tapeworms can infect pets. Dipylidium caninum develop as larvae in fleas, transmitted when the pet ingests fleas while grooming. Taenia forms are transmitted when a pet eats infective eggs that live in the soil or larvae from small rodents. Taenia infections are common among hunting pets. Tapeworms cause relatively little harm to host animals.

Tapeworms can cause the following symptoms in severe cases:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Nervousness
  • Severe itching around anus
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

Tapeworms are diagnosed by observing tapeworm segments that look like rice in the stool, near the anus, or on the petís fur. Treatments typically involve a single dose of praziquantel; consult your veterinarian if unsure of dosage amount.

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Whipworms are intestinal parasites/worms that live in the large intestine of dogs. While common in dogs, cats rarely carry them. Whipworms infect dogs through contaminated soil when grooming themselves and ingesting dirt from their feet or hair coat. Whipworms are very hardy and can be nearly impossible to kill in the soil.

The following symptoms can derive from whipworms:

  • Produce large amount of inflammation in cecum and large intestine
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood mixed in with feces
  • Dehydration caused by inability to regulate salt concentration; symptoms can persist to Addisonís disease

Whipworms are diagnosed by inspecting the dogís feces. Microscopic analysis is required to diagnose whipworms; consulting your veterinarian is advised. Treatment options are available through over the counter worm medications.

We offer a variety of monthly heartworm preventatives that are available here . For our full selection of deworming products, visit our section on Dewormers. Check out our Heartworm Guide for an in-depth analysis of what kinds of problems dogs and cats can face.
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