Among the many things you do for your dog, routine fecal tests play an important role for your dog’s well being and overall health. Truth is, given the opportunity, pesky parasites are always ready to invade your dog depriving him of nutrients and causing a cascading chain of health issues that can range from mild to quite significant. One of the most common worms affecting man’s best friend is the canine roundworm, an opportunistic parasite that thrives in your dog’s stomach and intestinal tract feeding off its partially digested contents.
Getting to Know the Roundworm Better
Also known as ascarides or nematodes, two species of canine roundworms are known for infecting dogs: Toxocara canis and toxocaris leonina. The name of these parasites derives from their appearance, a tubular, long shape that makes them resemble strands of cooked spaghetti. Their color may vary from white or light brown. Measuring up to 7 inches in length, canine roundworms are quite prolific parasites that deposits loads of eggs and can be present in large amounts in the dog’s digestive tract. These parasites are well distributed across the United States making them quite common to encounter. Just consider that according to Funkstown Vet, a female roundworm is capable of depositing over 100,000 eggs a day! Not to mention the fact, that roundworm eggs can survive months and even years given the right environment!
The Intriguing Life of the Roundworm
It’s the roundworm’s main mission to infect animals and procreate. When it comes to infecting dogs, roundworms have several modus operandi to accomplish their mission. One of the most common methods is just sitting and waiting for the dog to ingest the eggs. Roundworm eggs are commonly found in the soil, after an infected dogs has deposited them with his feces and they are allowed to mature for several days to weeks. All it takes then, is for a dog to walk on the soil, lick the area or lick his feet to which the eggs may have attached. After the dog ingests the eggs, they will hatch and turn into larvae.
Another way roundworms infect dogs is through the uterus. If an infected dog gets pregnant, larvae in her body will migrate and wait the best moment to infect the fetal puppies while in the uterus. Puppies may also get infected is through their mother’s milk when nursing. The larvae passed through the milk will then reach the pup’s intestines and mature.
Finally, roundworms may infect dogs through intermediate hosts. In other words, dogs may ingest dead animals that transport larvae which are then released into the dog’s intestinal tract once the host is digested. Common animals infested with roundworms and eaten by dogs are squirrels and rabbits, explains veterinarian Dr. Carol Osborn.
The Roundworm Effect
Once thriving inside a dog, roundworms will party and wreak havoc in many ways. In puppies, growth may be affected in heavy infestations since the roundworms may deprive them of nutrients. A pot-bellied appearance isn’t unusual. Other symptoms include changes in the dog’s appetite, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. Affected dogs may also have a dull coat. In mild infestations, adult dogs may be free of any evident symptoms. If the larvae migrate to the respiratory system, a mild cough may be seen. In rare cases, heavy infestations may even cause an intestinal blockage. Occasionally, roundworms may be seen alive in the dog’s feces or vomit.
Just because you do not see worms in your dog’s stools doesn’t mean your dog is free of parasites! Many dog owners assume their dog is free of parasites until they finally have their dog’s stool checked. Fact is, worms aren’t always visible to the naked eye. Worms may only be seen occasionally, depending on what stage of growth they are in. For a good reason, fecal tests are done in the vet’s office by using a microscope; when it comes to pesky parasites, there’s ultimately much more than meets the eye!
Protecting your Dog from Roundworms
The best way to protect your dog from roundworms is by having your vet test your dog’s fecal sample at least once a year. If your dog’s feces test positive for roundworm parasites, then your vet will put your dog on the appropriate dewormer to eradicate the roundworm population. Fortunately, treatment is quite cheap and effective. Puppies may need repeat dewormings. Once your dog has finished taking the medication, it’s a good idea to wait 3 to 4 weeks and have his stool tested again to ensure he is free of roundworm parasites. For dogs prone to frequent infestations, vets may prescribe monthly heartworm pills that also protect from several pesky parasites including roundworms. If you own a multi-dog household, should one dog in your household be found to have roundworms, it’s good practice to treat the rest of your pack as they most likely all share the roundworm infestation.
Roundworms Can Affect People Too!
One of the most disturbing facts is that roundworms at times may also affect humans. In particular, children are at risk since they are more likely to play nearby infested soil and then put their hands in their mouth, inevitably ingesting eggs. Once ingested, the eggs will hatch and the larvae may migrate to the lungs, liver, eyes or other organs and tissue causing what is known as damaging ” visceral larvae migrans”. According to the Centers of Disease Control, the T. Canis roundworm has been recognized for quite some time as a cause for larvae migrans in children. It’s estimated that as many as 10,000 cases of roundworm infections in humans are diagnosed in people each year.
As seen, roundworms are quite more than just a nuisance. These highly contagious parasites can cause a vast array of health problems in puppies and older dogs and potential issues with humans as well. Prevention and proper treatment is key to dealing with this problem. It’s therefore imperative to protect our dogs, our family and even the general public by cleaning up after our dogs and keeping them free of these pesky, damaging parasites.