With dogs the most popular animal on smallholdings ~ 85% of smallholders own dogs, according to our research ~ it is important to ensure they are always in good health, and worms in dogs are one of the most common causes of health problems.
Roundworms (Nematodes) are a group of parasites found in dogs, other animals and humans. In most cases the adult worms live in the dog’s small intestine, feeding on the contents of the intestine and skin cells. Eggs of the roundworm are passed through the faeces and can survive in soil for years. Animals can become infected with roundworm after eating faeces (or soil: geophagia), mice or rats (rodents act as paratenic hosts). Additionally, puppies can be infected through their mothers ~ either before birth or via the mother’s milk. These worms in dogs can be prevented by cleaning up faeces, keeping dogs away from small mammals (eg, rodents) and stray or untreated dogs (or other carnivores) and deworming puppies. Symptoms include coughing, runny nose, vomiting after feeding, or slimy unformed faeces. In puppies, symptoms can include abdominal pain, agitation and crying, worms in the faeces, and sometimes death. Owners must pay careful attention to litters ~ the mother’s cleaning of the puppies might hide some of the symptoms.
Hookworms are a group of roundworms (Nematodes) that can penetrate the animal through its skin that is then carried in the blood to the gastrointestinal tract. Using sharp teeth in their mouth, they suck mucosal tissue causing small lesions in the lining of the intestine which results in bleeding and can thus anaemia. Pale gums and weakness are symptoms, as are weight loss, bloody stool, and a dull coat. In heavy infections, skin irritation can occur. In pregnant and lactating dogs, larvae can be transferred to the puppies through feeding. Larvae can be found in the milk for up to four weeks after the mother has given birth. If a mother has had hookworms in the past, the pregnancy might reactivate dormant larvae causing re-infection in the mother and her new litter. The parasite can also be transferred to humans, and specially children playing on sand playgrounds or beaches are at risk.
Whipworms are a group of nematodes with the main representative, Trichuris vulpis, in dogs. Whipworms mainly live in the caecum (the beginning of the large intestine) and in more severe cases, the colon. Dogs can get whipworm by ingesting an infested substance such as soil (geophagia), food, water, faeces or animal flesh. The whipworm is a blood-feeding worm. Signs of infection of these worms in dogs include mucus and blood in the faeces, which may be foul smelling, weight loss, anaemia and general debilitation. In younger dogs, an infection may cause reduced growth. However, not all animals show symptoms, which results in the dangerous assumption that whipworm is not particularly harmful. Whipworm eggs can survive in infested soil for several years. However, the eggs are affected by the drying out of the soil. Infection can be prevented by regular deworming, picking up faeces, and preventing visits by untreated strays. There is no evidence of whipworm affecting cats, and it is very rare for the parasite to transfer to humans (although it has been reported in other countries).
Spirocercosis is a potentially lethal disease caused by another nematode parasite, Spirocerca lupi. The worm is around 1 to 2cm long and red in colour. Dogs can pick up the disease by eating certain dung beetles infected with the larvae of the worm. Mice, rats or birds may also carry the larvae. The larvae burrow through the stomach and migrate in the walls of the gastric arteries until they reach the aorta and oesophagus and during this migration they might cause nodules to develop Symptoms include coughing, weight loss, regurgitation, back pain, and the presence of eggs in the stool.
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