Your new puppy defecated outside for the first time and you are so proud—but wait, is that a worm in their stool? 

Don’t let your celebration turn to panic. Intestinal parasites are common in puppies, and, while they require prompt veterinary attention, they can be effectively treated and prevented. Groves Veterinary Clinic has the parasite information you need to keep the party going—and your puppy safe.

Why are puppies vulnerable to parasites?

  • Puppies can become infected with some intestinal parasites from their mother while in their womb or through their milk, or from their early environment. 
  • Young puppies may not have started heartworm, flea, and tick preventives when they are infected.
  • Puppies, like toddlers, put everything in their mouths, including other pets’  potentially infected stool.
  • A puppy’s small size and immature immune system can be overwhelmed by infections, leading to serious or fatal health consequences.

How are intestinal parasites diagnosed in puppies?

Some adult intestinal worms are visible in a puppy’s stool, while their eggs and other parasites require a microscopic fecal examination to detect. A fecal examination is recommended at each puppy visit, because parasites and their eggs are not continuously shed in the stool. 

Types of intestinal parasites

Intestinal worms and single-celled protozoans affect puppies by attaching to or living in their small intestine. Once there, the parasites rob puppies of nutrition by damaging the absorptive ability of the intestinal lining. In addition, biting worms can cause anemia in puppies because of blood loss. The following is a primer on the five most common intestinal parasite culprits:

  • Roundworms

    • Adult roundworms may appear in a puppy’s stool as “spaghetti.” 
    • Puppies generally are presumed to be born with roundworms, because of trans-placental migration of the parasite.
    • Puppies may also be infected through their mother’s milk or through ingestion of infected soil or feces.
    • Roundworms cause vomiting, diarrhea, dull hair coat, weight loss, and a swollen belly—and they can stunt a puppy’s growth if untreated.
    • A dewormer prescribed by your veterinarian will eliminate the infection.

  • Hookworms 
    • Hookworms are undetectable by the naked eye.
    • Hookworms can infect puppies through infected soil or feces, or through the skin. 
    • Hookworms feed off blood in a puppy’s small intestine and create wounds in the intestinal lining. 
    • Hookworm infections result in blood loss, weakness, and anemia in puppies. 
    • Untreated hookworm infections can be fatal in young puppies and teacup breeds.
    • A dewormer prescribed by your veterinarian is necessary for treatment.
  • Tapeworms

    • Tapeworm segments (egg packets) look like cucumber seeds or rice.
    • The egg packets can be found in a puppy’s stool, bedding, or hair coat around their rectum.  
    • Puppies are typically infected by consuming a flea while grooming.
    • Adult tapeworms live in the small intestine and can grow up to 70 centimeters in length.
    • If tapeworms are found, all pets in the home must be treated with a dewormer and a flea preventive for at least three months—year-round is strongly recommended—to break the flea life cycle and eliminate tapeworm infection and reinfection.

  • Coccidia
    • Coccidia are a microscopic single-celled organism.
    • Coccidia occur in immunocompromised or stressed puppies, and are often found in shelter animals, puppies born in puppy mills, or puppies who suffer a traumatic event such as weaning. 
    • Coccidia signs include diarrhea, vomiting, distended abdomen, and weight loss.
    • Coccidia are treated with an oral medication. The puppy’s environment should be kept as clean as possible to ensure the treatment is successful.
  •  Giardia 
    • Giardia are a microscopic single-celled organism.
    • Giardia are found in contaminated stool or water.
    • Giardia feed on the intestinal tract, damaging the lining and depriving the puppy of nutrition.
    • Puppies with giardia experience diarrhea, vomiting, distended abdomen, and weight loss.
    • Giardia can be difficult to eradicate because pets can easily be reinfected while grooming. Several rounds of antibiotic treatment and fecal testing may be required to completely clear the infection.

Puppy parasite treatment and prevention

Your veterinarian will prescribe the best course of treatment based on your puppy’s physical and fecal examination results. Treatment focuses on eliminating the parasitic infection, reducing the risk of transmission and reinfection, and preventing future parasites.

  • Medication 

A prescription dewormer or antibiotic is used to kill the existing parasite infection. 

If your puppy is not receiving flea, tick, and heartworm preventives, your veterinarian will prescribe a safe and effective product for them. Monthly heartworm preventives contain a dewormer and protect your puppy against some species of intestinal worms. After your puppy finishes taking the medication, two negative fecal tests are necessary to ensure they are parasite-free.

  • Hygiene

    • For puppies: Keep your puppy’s environment clean. Remove pet waste immediately and clean the area thoroughly. Clean your puppy’s hind end after defecation to reduce the risk of reinfection. Do not allow your puppy to have close contact with unfamiliar dogs or cats, or their waste.
    • For people: Wash your hands thoroughly after touching your puppy or cleaning up any of their messes because many intestinal parasites are zoonotic and can be transmitted to people.

Do not let parasites get between you and your puppy. Call Groves Veterinary Clinic to schedule an examination and intestinal parasite screening for your puppy.