Dog Parasite Treatments: What to Do to Keep Dogs Safe

I take dog parasite treatment very seriously. Magic and I spend a couple hours every day running and playing in the fields and rambling through the wooded areas of our thirteen-acre property. With the recent rain and warmer temperatures, the wildflowers and roses–as well as grass and weeds–have flourished. But so have the dog parasites including the ones you can see like fleas, tapeworms, roundworms and mosquitoes, and the hidden bugs such as heartworm, hookworms, and whipworms. What’s a caring pet parent to do to provide effective dog parasite treatment?
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DOG PARASITE TREATMENT

Y’all know I’m a huge proponent of preventive care for our dogs and cats as well as a “less is more” approach. Heck, in the old days with my first GSD, we constantly fought the bug wars with weekly dips and sprays and powders and on and on. None were effective alone, and the cumulative effect potentially could poison the dog as well as the bugs. Allowing a dog to become infected first and then treat risked long term health damage or even death, yikes!

Today there are safer products that take care of the buggy smorgasbord in a single monthly treatment. Even the best dog parasite treatment won’t work, though, if it’s hard for you to use or if the application causes the pet distress.

One summer, he developed explosive diarrhea that couldn’t be treated at home. Only after extensive tests did we determine the parasites involved, which he probably contracted by drinking from run off into an old cattle tank (pond) on our property. It’s very difficult to prevent dogs from sniffing up and licking “schtuff” even while supervising them. And while no treatment is 100% guaranteed, I want to give Magic (and the cats) every protection possible to ensure their continued good health.

I like the idea of giving Magic a single monthly treatment that prevents all of these issues at one time. We began the program last month and I was delighted to see that Magic takes the monthly chewy like a treat–he LOVES the flavor! For dogs that are hard to medicate, that’s an added benefit.

So, exactly what kinds of parasites are we talking about? Gather round–it’s quite a “herd” of bad guys, and here’s a round up of info from my DOG FACTS book.

PARASITE RISKS FOR DOGS

FLEAS: There are more than 250 kinds of fleas in the United States, but the cat flea Ctenocephalides felis afflicts pets most often. With the exception of pets living in mountainous regions exceeding elevations of 5000 feet, or dry areas like deserts that are inhospitable to fleas, every dog is at risk for flea infestation. Fleas thrive in warm summer weather, but because most dogs spend time both outside and indoors, fleas carried into homes often set up housekeeping (yikes!), and afflict dogs all year long. You may see flea “dirt” (black specks which are digested blood) caught in the fur, and allergic dogs may scratch incessantly. Adult fleas on a dog account for only 5% of the bug population, with the other 95% consisting of eggs and immature fleas living in the environment. Fleas also transmit other parasites, like tapeworms.

TAPEWORMS are ribbon-like flat worms that live in the intestines. There are several varieties, but Dipylidium caninum is seen most often in cats and dogs and can pose nutritional problems interfering with food absorption. Immature worms must spend developmental time inside an intermediary host before being able to infest your dog. The flea serves this purpose. Tapeworm eggs are eaten by the flea larvae, which then develops as the flea itself matures. When a pet nibbles to relieve that itch, she often swallows the flea and infects herself with tapeworm. You’ll likely see the white inchworm-like segments or dried ricelike debris near the dog’s bottom or in the stool. Some kinds of tapeworms even affect people, making it even more important to keep dogs parasite free. Learn more here.

Internal Parasites

HEARTWORMS are one of the “invisible” but most deadly parasite affecting dogs, and are type of roundworm called Dirofilaria immitis that belongs to a group of parasites termed filarids. Adult worms live in the pulmonary arteries and right heart chambers, and can damage the heart muscle and interfere with its function. An intermediate host, the mosquito, is necessary to transmit the disease to dogs. The life cycle takes about six to seven months.

All dogs can get heartworm disease, but those exposed more often to mosquitoes—outdoor dogs living in close proximity to mosquito breeding grounds like swamps or standing water—are at highest risk. Common signs are coughing, shortness of breath, and reluctance or fainting during exercise. Eventually the dog becomes weak, listless, loses weight, and may cough up blood. Severe signs of late-stage disease are congestive heart failure, including labored breathing and edema. The condition may result in sudden collapse and death. Nearly 300,000 dogs in the U.S. contract heartworms each year–and it doesn’t have to happen.

ROUNDWORMS are one the most common intestinal parasites and most puppies are born with them. Roundworms are passed in the stool or vomited, and look like masses of spaghetti. Infected pets often have a pot-bellied appearance. There are several types of roundworms, technically called nematodes. Puppies may be infected before they are born when immature worms the mom-dog harbors migrate to the uterus. Puppies may also contract roundworms from nursing the mother’s infected milk. The parasite can also be contracted when a puppy or adult dog swallows infective larvae found in the environment, or by eating an infected host like a mouse or bird. Children also can be infected, so keeping dogs worm free with products like Sentinel Spectrum also keeps kids safe.

HOOKWORMS are another common intestinal parasite you won’t see in the stool because they grow to less than half an inch long and usually must be diagnosed by finding eggs with microscopic examination of a stool sample. Depending on the species, they suck blood and/or take bites out of the wall of the dog’s small intestine (ouch!), which can result in severe bleeding. All dogs are susceptible, but puppies are at highest risk. Although adult dogs may become immune to the worms after several bouts of infection, that doesn’t necessarily clear all the parasites and dogs can still get sick. There are several kinds of hookworms. The highest incidence of disease is found in southern states. The higher humidity and temperature conditions provide an ideal environment for the parasite.

WHIPWORMS are thin, two to three inch long thread-like intestinal parasite worms that narrow at one end like a whip. All dogs are at risk, but puppies may be more profoundly affected. Dogs contract the parasite by ingesting eggs found in the soil. Eggs can live for five years in the soil of cold climates. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), “Whipworms are found in as many as 14.3% of shelter dogs sampled in the U.S. and 10% of dogs presented to veterinary teaching hospitals.” Some lucky dogs live in states with a much lower incidence of this nasty critter. Check out this CAPC parasite incidence map to see the risk factors for your dogs (and cats).

The whipworm parasite feeds on blood by burrowing into the wall of the intestine. Dogs infected with whipworms often are also infected with other parasites, such as hookworms, and the combination can be devastating. A heavy worm load of whipworms may cause diarrhea, vomiting, anemia and weight loss, and such dogs typically have a rough coat or “unthrifty” appearance. In severe cases, dogs can die.

Learn about tick prevention in this post about Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and this post about Ehrlichiosis.

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Talk To Your Veterinarian

The first step in protecting your dog from these common parasites is to schedule a veterinary appointment to diagnose and treat any resulting health concerns. Then the doctor can also recommend and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

How do you keep your dogs (and cats) safe in your “bug wars?” Have your pets ever had a bad experience with parasites? How did you know? What signs did you see? And what did you and your vet do to get your furry wonder well again? Do tell!

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44 thoughts on “Dog Parasite Treatments: What to Do to Keep Dogs Safe

    • Thanks so much. So far, I’m happy with the Sentinel Spectrum. Here in N Texas, fleas are a huge problem and it’s early in the season so I’m hopeful this will be a big help going forward.

  1. I am just looking for a solution to protect Kilo the Pug from Heartworm and other bugs. He does not get out much beyond our local downtown area or a few events and the waterfront so he is not high risk but any risk is too much.A previous rescue had it when we got her and it was hard to get rid of and debilitating. This sounds like a good option. I am also looking at tick prevention this month.

    • We had a conference call with the folks from Virbac and I asked specifically, “What if your dog is flea-allergic?” Because it may only take one flea bite to set off the allergies. Of course, the Sentinel Spectrum product (lufenuron) ingredient sterilizes the fleas and reduces buggy populations but when the veterinarian says a dog would benefit from fleas being “repelled” then I was told those dogs may benefit from another (vet approved) product to address that. Lufenuron is flea-specific so it can be safely combined with some other products (again, check with the vet, always!).

  2. My corgis were on Sentinel for a 6-month period and all was great, until we got into tick season here and I needed to add a topical (so went back to separate heartworm and flea-tick). I wish they could find a way to add tick protection to this product, because the price was attractive. (And I don’t like putting the flea-tick topical on my dogs’ fur). Dumb ticks!

    • I hear you! Apparently, tick biology is very different than the other parasites. It takes research and asking the right questions to find the correct protection/combo for individual dogs.

  3. 250 different kinds of fleas!?! OMGosh – that’s incredible….. Now I can never unlearn that! Great post and chuck full of topical/timely information. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with everyone – it will help inform decision making!

  4. I love summer for all the beauty nature offers and enjoying the outdoors with my dogs. The downside is definitely all the pesky parasites. Thank you so much for all the great information. So nice to know there is a pillow now that can take care of these awful invaders!

  5. What a wonderfully informative post! We hate fleas, ticks, and anything creepy crawly and of course the dreaded heartworms. And, this seems a lot less messy than most preventatives!

    • According to CAPC, whipworms CAN affect cats in tropical climates but they are rare in cats in North America. Whew! Cats do get the other bugs, of course (roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, heartworms, fleas, even ticks), and there are cat specific products to protect kitties. It’s VITAL to ensure any product is made especially for cats–some products safe for dogs can be dangerous for kitties.

  6. I like the idea of a monthly dose, I am glad that it works for Magic. This product isn’t right for my dogs. My understanding (and I could be wrong) is that it doesn’t discourage the fleas from biting. Nelly is super sensitive to bug bites, especially flea bites. It also doesn’t take care of ticks which are a big problem here.

    • Hi Beth, You’r correct that the product is not a flea repellent and in order to work, the flea must first bite the dog–not a good thing for the flea allergic pooch. And also correct, that it’s apparently extremely difficult to combine tick protection with all the other benefits of this product. I asked specifically about that–and was told that because the lufenuron that breaks the flea life cycle is SPECIFIC to bugs (and not mammals) that you can safely combine another tick-protection/flea-protection product with Sentinel Spectrum. Of course, I’d always encourage folks to check first with their individual veterinarian for the best combo, if that’s necessary for your particular circumstances.

  7. What an awesome and informative post! I love the way this product works – seems a lot less stressful for both pups and their parents!

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